ESFA reveal AEB funding rules with free courses for the low paid

Detail on the government’s new adult education budget policy has been published, after FE Week revealed yesterday it would offer free courses for anyone earning less than £15,726.50.

The Department for Education will trial the policy in 2018/19, enabling AEB providers to “fully fund learners” who are employed on low wages and cannot contribute towards the cost of co-funding fees.

“This will help to increase AEB participation and lift social mobility barriers to learning for those who would not otherwise engage due to course fees being unaffordable,” the department said today.

“It will also support those who have been motivated to move out of unemployment and are in receipt of a low wage to further progress in work and their chosen career.”

Current AEB fee remission rules focus on providing full funding for eligible unemployed adults – such as those on benefits – young people aged 19 to 23 with skills below level two, and adults aged 19 and over who do not have English and maths up to level two.

Currently, individuals who do not fall into one of these categories may have to contribute up to 50 per cent towards the cost of their learning.

The new eligibility criteria now include those that “earn less than £15,736.50 annual gross salary based on the Social Mobility Commission’s low-pay threshold of £8.07 (hourly rate in 2016) and on the assumption of a 37.5-hour contract with paid statutory holiday entitlement”.

To confirm learner eligibility providers must “see and keep supporting evidence in the learner file, for example, this could be a wage slip within three months of the learner’s learning start date, or a current employment contract, which states gross monthly/annual wages)”.

They must also “enter the ILR monitoring code (363) for every eligible learner they fully fund through this trial. This is imperative as we will use data collected from this trial to inform future adult funding policy development”.

The DfE has “engaged” with representative bodies, mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority, which have been “supportive of the trial and its aims to make learning more accessible for the low paid”.

It is huge news for learners on English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses, who typically take low-paid jobs while they upskill themselves.

Dr Susan Pember, the director of policy at Holex, said she was “pleased that ministers have listened and have reinstated free provision for the those on a low wage”.

“Although this is a trial we believe it will help support those who have the ability to progress in their job and start to secure a more productive workforce,” she added.