Access cash ‘must’ go to traineeships

The demise of access to apprenticeship (AtA) has led to a call for colleges to be allowed to use cash for the programme on 16 to 18 traineeships instead.

Funding rules currently stop colleges using money for AtA, which the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is closing to new starts from next year, to pay for traineeships.

The traineeship programme is seen as the replacement for AtAs, which close to new starts at the end of the year, with both designed to act as pre-apprenticeship courses.

However, the Education Funding Agency (EFA), through its study programmes budget, pays for 16 to 18 traineeships at college, while AtAs for the same age group are funded through the SFA’s adult skills budget.

But a number of colleges have already turned down the opportunity to run 16 to 18 traineeships, warning that their budgets were already stretched.

It has resulted in the suggestion that colleges be allowed to shift money from their 16 to 18 AtA budget because the end of the programme means the cash is unlikely to be spent — and could even be clawed back by government.

Graham Howe (pictured), West Nottinghamshire College vice principal for business development, warned that learners could be affected if AtA money couldn’t be spent on traineeships.

He said: “If the traineeship programme is to be truly successful, and see the positive work that we do in our college with young people and employers continue to thrive and grow, the system must allow colleges to utilise the 16 to 18 AtA budget to deliver traineeship programmes.

“If this does not happen, we will see a reduction in the opportunities available to young people to engage with the apprenticeship programme.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE), which oversees the EFA, said: “If a college on an EFA contract wants to recruit more traineeship students than they are funded for, they are free to do so and will receive an increased allocation in the next year to make up for this.”

More than 7,000 learners did an AtA in 2011/12, followed by a provisional 4,200 for the first three quarters of last year.

An SFA spokeperson said: “Following the successful introduction of traineeships in August, AtA will close to new starts from January.

“We will continue to fund any learners on AtA programmes at that time to complete their programme.

“As AtA programmes are intended to last no longer than six months, we expect that these learners will have progressed onto a full apprenticeship by July.”

But while the DfE said it had not set a target for traineeships, the AtA figures have left cash-strapped college leaders uneasy at the thought of forking out to run similar numbers of 16 to 18 traineeships this year, but having to wait until next year to be paid.

“Our volumes of 16 to 18 traineeships will be restricted as financially the college has already surpassed its 16 to 18 EFA target and any additional activity has to be resourced from within the college as the EFA lag model prevents any in-year increases in funding allocations,” said Mr Howe.

“Therefore any 16 to 18 traineeship activity delivered in-year would mean no income in-year, but potential growth of EFA numbers in 2014/15, depending upon the consistent application of past EFA funding policy.”

The DfE spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that the size of the traineeships programme, which is still in its first year, will be determined by demand from employers and young people.”