Apprenticeship reform review findings confirmed for early September

The National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed to FE Week that it will release its latest report on apprenticeships when parliament returns in the the week commencing September 5.

The findings of this new study will coincide with the close of the government’s fourth consultation into the reforms, while the Public Accounts Committee will also scrutinise apprenticeships as part of its early autumn programme of work this year.

According to the NAO website, its latest research aims to “examine the management of the apprenticeship programme by Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS)”, particularly in light of the government’s plans to improve productivity and introduce 3m new apprenticeships by 2020.

It will also assess whether BIS has effectively facilitated the delivery of high quality skills training to meet the needs of businesses, employees and the economy.

The study exploring quality concerns around government management of apprenticeship reforms was initially announced in November 2015.

At the time, Stewart Segal, then chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, told FE Week: “Given the NAO’s previous findings about the programme’s excellent return on the government’s investment, it’s important that the reforms both for funding and standards build on what has worked well.”

At the Association of Colleges, Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager, said: “Apprenticeships are an essential part of post-16 education and training as they provide a dual learning, both on and off the job.

“We hope the NAO will have a good look at the management of reform and the growth of the programme.”

The NAO published its previous report on the topic in February 2012 , focusing on ‘Adult Apprenticeships’ and looking into “whether the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is obtaining value for money from the Apprenticeships programme”.

FE Week drew out conclusions from the report, such as the findings that adult apprenticeships offer good value for money, but there was a need for the government to focus its resources on industries which offer the best economic returns.

It criticised both BIS and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) for not targeting the qualifications, frameworks or age groups that have the biggest impact on the economy.

The NAO found through the study that the funding rates used to pay training providers for delivering an apprenticeship was not based on robust information, and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and NAS had set tariffs without “reliable evidence” to support estimated training costs.

The NAO said both the SFA and NAS were unable to judge the extent to which providers were generating profits or losses as a result of inaccurate rates.

It also reported that BIS had failed to assess the level of additionality (the extent to which public funding results in training that would not otherwise have occurred) being delivered by the apprenticeship programme.

Finally, it found that a growing number of adult apprenticeships were being delivered in under half a year.

If the upcoming NAO report into apprenticeship reforms criticises the speed of change, it will add weight to the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) call for a delay to the implementation of the levy. 

In an exclusive article for FE Week earlier this month, Neil Carberry, the CBI’s director for employment and skills, said the only way to create a system that delivers “three million opportunities – not just three million starts” was by delaying its introduction.

Mr Carberry said: “Enough people within government know what a project timeline in trouble looks like – and the levy system is one of those.

“On the digital service, cross-border issues with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and many more concerns.

“In truth, it is highly unlikely that the structures and rules necessary to make the system work on day one can be delivered effectively on the current timelines,” he said.

Exclusive FE Week research into the apprenticeship reforms revealed on August 19 that proposed funding for 16 to 18 year-old apprentices will result in current rates to colleges and training providers being cut by around 30 per cent, rising to over half for those apprentices living in the most deprived areas of central London.