DfE keeps apprenticeship funding model report secret

The government is refusing to release a crucial report that would show whether or not the forecasting tool it has developed to predict apprenticeship starts is actually working.

The Department for Education is suppressing a report that scrutinises the model it uses to anticipate starts at large and small employers, even while arguments still rage over the outcome of the recent non-levy funding tender.

A firm called Cambridge Econometrics won a £15,000 contract to assess the DfE’s apprenticeships projection tool in March this year, but no-one will say when it will be published.

The due date for the research was May 31 – and FE Week understands it was submitted as expected.

However, the DfE denied our Freedom of Information request to see the report, and refused to even to specify when it would be unveiled.

“The final report by Cambridge Econometrics, for this tender, has just been received by the department and is being prepared for publication,” the DfE said in its response. “The department intends to publish the information.

“As the report will be published, the department is withholding releasing it now because an exemption under Section 22 of the FOI Act applies.”

In its tender for the research, it described a “forecasting model” that it had developed in-house which would project apprenticeship starts and costs at both levy and non-levy paying employers for the period between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

These projections are to be used to understand the “demands on the apprenticeship budget primarily for the purposes of the financial control of apprenticeship spending”.

Cambridge Econometrics researchers were to review the design of the government’s mathematical model, consider whether it worked or if other approaches might improve its quality and capability.

Apprenticeship starts were slow to get off the ground in the first half of 2016/17, as was the case during the previous year, despite the introduction of the levy.

But starts picked up when mandatory cash contributions from employers kicked in and between February and April they grew by 52,700, or a healthy 47 per cent.

Unofficial estimates suggest that starts since May are much lower.

Official figures for May, June and July this year will not however be known until the government’s next statistical first release appears next month.

The non-levy allocations process meanwhile continues to spiral out of control.

Apprenticeship providers first faced up to the potential of mass bankruptcy in April, after many received funding for May to December this year that amounted to a fraction of their former allocations.

The situation was so dire that AELP boss Mark Dawe labelled it a “horror story” and a “bonfire of the providers”.

A new tender for non-levy allocations was relaunched in July, but it took another twist last week following a series of “clarifications” that were sent out just over a week before the submission deadline.

Mr Dawe described the situation as “totally unacceptable” and warned the whole process was “descending into a farce”.

The DfE acknowledged that there is a public interest in disclosing the apprenticeships methodology report in its response to FE Week’s FoI request, but insisted that the “public interest in permitting the government to publish information in a manner and at a time of its own choosing is also important”.