Full steam ahead for apprenticeship levy launch

It’s full steam ahead for the levy launch — with the Department for Education (DfE) set to unveil a delayed document spelling out new apprenticeship funding arrangements in the next few days.

The government had been due to provide further funding information for apprenticeship reforms last month, but former skills minister Nick Boles warned delegates at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ annual conference on June 27 that there had been a “little delay”.

FE Week has now learned that his successor Robert Halfon has been overseeing sign-off — with publication expected imminently.

It comes on the day the Harlow MP confirmed via Twitter that he had been made minister of state for apprentices and skills.

A new memo has also shed light on government plans to “simplify” FE and skills funding arrangements, including the levy due for launch in April, after responsibility passed wholly to the DfE.

The briefing statement, which was made available today in the House of Commons library, explains how the transfer of many responsibilities previously held by the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will work in practice.

It said, for example, that the move will “help to enhance consistency across funding systems”.

“Until now responsibility for delivery of the 3m apprenticeships target has been split with the DfE funding those at school age (16 – 18) [through the Education Funding Agency] and the former Department for Business, Innovations and Skills funding those aged 19 and over [through the Skills Funding Agency],” it said.

“There will now be more flexibility to simplify funding arrangements for apprenticeships in a single department.”

The memo added DfE will also “take responsibility for working with” the SFA — which suggests the agency will continue as an independent entity and not be merged into the EFA for the time being at least.

When asked by FE Week if it could now confirm what the future of the SFA would be, a DfE spokesperson would only say: “There is nothing more we can add to what has been said [in the briefing statement].”

The document also confirmed that DfE will take over responsibility for “the prevention of extremism or intimidation on university and college campuses, and protection of free speech”.

Other responsibilities the department will “inherit” include implementation of new technical routes to skilled employment, post-16 area reviews, expansion of the traineeships programme, and “setting of tuition fees and funding policy across both further and higher education”.

It is thought all of the FE and skills responsibilities will fall to Mr Halfon, in much the same way as they did with his predecessor Nick Boles — although he had to work across DfE and BIS.

Mr Halfon tweeted confirmation of his role this afternoon, stating that he was “delighted to have been given brief of minister of state for apprentices & skills by SoS.”

But when FE Week asked earlier if Mr Halfon’s responsibilities will differ in any way from his predecessor’s, a DfE spokesperson said: “We haven’t got details yet, so can’t confirm exactly what his responsibilities will be at this time.”