ESFA reveals plans for new tougher apprenticeship provider register

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has revealed plans to tighten up rules for training providers wanting to get onto its apprenticeships register and kick off those who aren’t delivering.

Keith Smith (pictured), the agency’s director of apprenticeships, told the AELP autumn conference today that the new beefed up Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers will open “within weeks, possibly sooner” and will then stay open indefinitely.

The thousands of training providers already on there will be asked to re-apply, in segments which will be “divided into groups” over the next 12 months. These groups will be focused on risk, with “high-risk” providers having to reapply first.

There is going to be a much stronger emphasis on quality

“We want to focus the re-application process on those providers that are potentially not delivering, and on those that we think will struggle to pass our new requirements,” he said.

New questions designed to “test a provider’s ability to deliver” high standards will also be introduced.

Mr Smith added that the agency is likely to introduce a rule that throws off providers who go 12 months with no delivery after joining the register.

There will also be greater scrutiny of providers getting on RoATP. Companies will have to have traded for 12 months at least in order to be eligible for application and provide a full set of accounts to be on the register.

The ESFA will look “very closely” at the registered address of the training provider to fish out whether it is actually a business address.

It will also look at the possibility of introducing a cap on how much apprenticeship funding a provider can earn.

“We’re going to test the idea of what we call recommended funding limits,” Mr Smith said.

“All providers on the register will have a financial cap and we will determine how much they are able to earn.” The agency thinks the caps could be good to “control, not just for quality reasons, the potential size and expansion” of providers.

The three provider routes – main, employer and supporting – will remain in place.

Mr Smith concluded: “There is going to be a much stronger emphasis on quality, on delivery models and much stronger emphasis on the type of business we have operating the money.

“We would like your views on whether these plans go too far or not far enough.”

Keith Smith’s RoATP slide at the AELP conference

The changes come after FE Week has reported extensively on the problems with the application process, and discovered, for example, one-man bands with no delivery experience being given access to millions of pounds of apprenticeships funding.

And earlier this month this newspaper discovered a loophole in RoATP after a broker advertised how companies can buy their way on to it for £50,000.

The register has been closed ever since the government shut it for review in October 2017, even though it was originally meant to open every quarter, leaving many providers wanting to get on there to deliver apprenticeships frustrated.