The Department for Education has refused to tell FE Week how many apprenticeship starts there were in April – even though the data is part of its official statistics.
Figures published in early July showed 165,600 starts in the three months from February to April – up 52,700 from the same period last year.
We wanted to know if most of this growth took place in April – the month before the levy reforms kicked in – so we lodged a Freedom of Information request with the department asking for these starts broken down by month.
But our request was turned down.
The response we received cited an FOI rule that “provides for information to be exempt from disclosure where the information is held by the department with a view to its publication by the department or any other person at some future date”.
It went on to say that the DfE was “undergoing a review of the further education and skills statistical first release” which it said would include consulting on “publishing monthly data on apprenticeship starts”.
But until then “it is not reasonable for the government to be expected to release piecemeal information in advance of its planned timetable”, we were told.
Changes to apprenticeship funding rules from May mean that employers who are not subject to the levy – in other words, the majority of employers – now have to make a mandatory cash contribution towards the cost of training.
As a result, FE Week understands that many employers and providers rushed to start apprentices before the end of April while the old rules – which didn’t involve employer contributions – were still in place.
We reported in June that members of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers had indicated that starts in May had plummeted to just a quarter of what they had been before the reforms kicked in.
At the time AELP boss Mark Dawe attributed the drop to a “number of pressures” including firms in some sectors “saying they are not going to contribute to 10 per cent employer funding”.
But he struck a more positive note when asked about the DfE’s refusal to reveal April starts.
“The picture we are getting from providers who asked for growth seems to be pretty positive, which should help to alleviate some of the concerns about the overall number of starts for the rest of this year,” he said.