Tight deadline for ESFA survey on non-levy transition period for providers

Providers are being asked for their views on the expansion of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s apprenticeships service– but they only have four days to respond.

The agency emailed all those currently on the register of apprenticeship training providers today, inviting them to complete a survey asking for their views on the “best way to manage the transition from the current system to one where all new starts are funded through the apprenticeship service”.

The deadline for completing the survey is midday on Monday, August 20.

Currently only large, levy-paying employers have access to the apprenticeship service. Starts with smaller, non-levy funded employers are still funded through contracts held by just 683 providers.

The plan had been for all employers to be able to use the service to access apprenticeship funding from April 2019, but the ESFA announced last week that this move had been put back by at least a year.

According to today’s survey, the agency is “exploring options for gradually phasing in the move to the digital system for non-levy employers – rather than moving instantly from the current system of funding through contracts to only funding new starts through the apprenticeship service”.

It is proposing a period of time in which any provider – regardless of whether they hold a non-levy contract – would be able to use the apprenticeship service to deliver starts with small employers, while those providers with a contract would be able to continue with their existing allocations.

“Over this period of time, we would aim to reduce funding starts through contracts and increase funding through the apprenticeship service,” today’s email said.

The agency is also “looking to develop the apprenticeship service to meet the needs of small businesses”.

Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “While the time pressure over the holiday period is a little unfortunate, it is good that providers are being given the chance to contribute views on what the transition should look like and provide feedback on their own perceived state of readiness.”

He said he was “delighted” that a dual-running system was “now a real possibility”, as this was something the AELP had “been lobbying hard for”.

“Of course, we don’t know yet what the design of the digital system for non-levy employers will look like and how much support these organisations will need from providers to navigate it but the ambition should definitely be a transitional process rather than waiting to put all non-levy employers on the system at the end of the 2020 timelines being discussed,” he said.

Access the survey here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ESFA0818/