Calls are being made for widespread changes to the minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training apprenticeship rule, in a new report expressing Association of Employment and Learning Providers frustration.

According to the government, off-the-job training must amount to “20 per cent of the apprentice’s contracted employment hours across the whole apprenticeship”, but AELP wants more detailed guidance on how this will work in practice following widespread reforms coming in next month.

Final apprenticeship funding rules for training providers from May 2017 to March 2018, stated that “training is defined as learning which is undertaken outside of the normal day-to-day working environment and leads towards the achievement of an apprenticeship”.

AELP has now called for the 20 per cent minimum to include time teaching compulsory English and maths resits training (where required), in a report unveiled today.

It also wants blended learning to be properly recognised within the definition as “well supported distance learning should be supported and not discouraged, with the utilisation of technology to enhance innovative learning being embraced and not stifled”.

A spokesperson added that in AELP’s view, the funding rules and guidance for the requirement should “fully recognise training which takes place away from the workplace”; training in the workplace but “in a separate training room”; or “effective training” at the apprentice’s “own workstation when non-productive”.

Mark Dawe

It comes after FE Week reported in January that AELP was offering the government help to define the minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training apprenticeship rule.

Chief executive Mark Dawe announced at the time that they would be sending out a survey to find out how its members currently approach the rule.

He said today: “We submitted our proposals and survey results to the government in February and with the levy now live, it’s vital that the DfE responds with guidance and examples of good practice very soon.

“Without it, employers who were considering offering apprenticeships for the first time may hold back from engaging in the programme denying thousands of young people the apprenticeship opportunities they need.”

The report unveiled today shares the results of the survey, based on 202 separate responses (around 25 per cent of AELP members).

It found that nearly two-thirds (59 per cent) of current off-the-job training takes place either “fully” or “mostly” on the employers’ premises.

Over a third (37 per cent) of off-the-job training still happens at the apprentice’s workstation, despite being separate from the actual job.

Only 13 per cent of off-the-job training, it revealed, took place entirely away from the workplace.

Funding rules for employer providers that apply from May state that providers must outline details of employment including “the agreed contracted hours of employment, including paid training, and 20 per cent off the job time, and the total planned length of the apprenticeship”.

They are also required to show  “how the 20 per cent off-the-job training will be quantified and delivered”.

But it is increasingly feared that many apprentices, on “low quality” programmes, are not spending this time learning away from the workplace, and are instead effectively working full-time on a lower apprentice’s wage.

When invited to respond to AELP’s recommendations, a DfE spokesperson could not say if new guidance would be forthcoming, and told FE Week: “The requirement for apprenticeships to include at least 20 per cent off-the-job training is a core principle that underpins a quality apprenticeship.

“As set out in the funding rules, this off-the-job training does not have to mean one day per week in a classroom.

“Indeed, providers and employers have the freedom to develop this training so it is tailored to individual employers and meets the needs of both them and apprentice, and we would encourage them to do so.”

Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager at the Association of Colleges, also responded to the AELP survey finding.

She said: “Both the needs of the apprentice and the employer should be taken into account and good practice should be shared across providers to enable innovative, high-quality training.

“If providers are keeping to the intent of the funding rules and feel confident that their delivery model is justifiable, there should not be a problem.”

However, she added: “As with a lot of the apprenticeship reforms though, we won’t know if the intent of the policy is being realised until some delivery has actually been started.

“It would be a shame to stifle potential innovation in delivery by pushing the government to become too descriptive as to what is and is not acceptable.”