Today’s long-awaited release of proposals for widespread apprenticeship reform include plans for a new register of apprenticeship training providers.
The government wants the new register to work alongside the existing register of training organisations. Providers will have to meet strict criteria to be included on the register, which will then be used by employers looking for training for their apprentices.
The guidance issued by the government emphasises the desire of ministers to put employers in the driving seat, and has some big ramifications for subcontractors and other “middle men” in the contracting process, along with colleges or independent providers which have had less-than-favourable run-ins with Ofsted or the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).
Here are some of the key points from the government guidance…
Inadequate providers will escape a ban from the register if their apprenticeship provision is rated above a grade four
Following FE Week’s revelation last night that inadequate-rated providers will be removed from the register, the government has clarified that this will not apply to those which are given a grade four overall but whose apprenticeships provision is given a better rating.
There are a lot of reasons why a provider could be removed from the register
The government says it will remove providers from the register is they or any of their directors, governors, senior employeers or shareholders meets any of the following criteria…
Ongoing investigation relating to suspicion of fraud or irregularity, or possible failure to comply with conditions of funding under an existing funding agreement or subcontract.
Withdrawal of funding following the failure to comply with a Notice of Withdrawal of Funding, or failure to remedy a serious breach of contract within the last three years.
Information from awarding bodies identifying significant irregularities in the award of qualifications within the last three years.
Previous activities have resulted in significant repayment of SFA or government funding within the last two years (£100,000 or 5 per cent of contract value, whichever is the higher). This also includes funding paid to a subcontractor to deliver education and training services funded by the SFA.
Failure to repay funding due to the SFA or other government body, in excess of £50,000.
Failure to repay funding due under a subcontract to deliver education and training services funded by the SFA in excess of £50,000.
Two or more instances where the SFA or its agents has audited the provision of a lead provider and identified issues of non-compliance. This is non-compliance with conditions of funding within the last two years.
Early termination of a funding agreement or a subcontract to deliver education and training services funded by the SFA within the last three years.
This also applies to providers which have key personnel who were previously a director, governor, senior employee or shareholder in “another organisation where one or more of the above criteria apply”.
New standards for quality of apprenticeship delivery could be introduced
The government is working with the Institute for Apprenticeships in looking to introduce “standards associated with the quality of a provider’s actual delivery”, which will enable the DfE to remove from the register any providers which fall below those standards.
Ministers also want to “explore the role that employer feedback can play in informing a provider’s status on the register”.
Smaller subcontractors will have to be on the register
Any organisation wanting a role in delivering apprenticeship training from next May will have to apply to be on the register.
At the moment, subcontractors which deliver less than £100,000 of SFA-funded provision each year do not need to apply.
Howerver, managing agents, intermediary bodies, consortium leads, brokerage organisations or “any other similar entity that does not itself deliver education and training to apprentices” will not be eligible to join.
The government claims this is being done to foster direct relationships between employers and training providers.
In fact, the whole subcontracting system is changing
Following hints from SFA boss Keith Smith last year that subcontracting in its current form could become a thing of the past, a plan to shake up the system has indeed been put on the table.
The government claims that the current model of providers funding other providers to deliver a number of apprenticeships, often to employers that the original provider has no relationship with, is “redundant”.
The DfE is proposing that providers be able to supplement their own delivery by bringing in expertise from supporting providers to deliver parts of apprentices, but the expectation will be that the main provider delivers “significantly more than half of each apprentice’s training” and maintains the relationship with the employer “at all times”.
Employers who want to provide their own apprenticeship training to staff won’t have to prove they’re meeting some employment law
The government has said the route for would-be employer-providers would require them to meet “the same quality criteria”, but that other criteria would be “proportionate and appropriate”.
For example, the DfE would not ask employer-providers to “confirm details of legislation they will be complying with through their employment of the apprentices”.
The government hasn’t specified which specific pieces of legislation the document is referring to.
Some larger businesses wanting to become providers could be subject to a financial health test
At the moment, employers with an annual turnover of more than £100 million and whose funding from the SFA is less than 5 per cent of that turnover are exempt from the test.
But the government is considering a reduction to these thresholds because “they will exceed the turnover of many levied employers”.
The proposals have prompted a mixed reaction…
A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “We understand that the government is on a mission to substantially reduce the amount of subcontracting within the sector but the full implications of today’s proposals need very careful consideration before they are given the green light. In particular, the idea that a provider should be responsible for at least half of the training of every apprentice on its books looks like a misguided approach to addressing the overall issue.
“We also want to see consistent criteria applied to different types of provider, such as good financial health. Good finances are a strong indicator of the quality of leadership and management which is likely to have a heavy bearing on the learner experience.”
Stephen Evans, deputy chief executive at Learning and Work Institute, said: “The clear emphasis on quality in today’s announcements is welcome. Learning and Work shares the views of many employers who believe apprenticeship quality is just as, if not more, important than quantity. However, I challenge the view that an Ofsted grade alone is the most effective measure to use for the purposes of the new Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers – measures of quality must be timely and rounded which is why we’ve called for an Apprentice Charter, designed by employers and Apprentices.”