ESFA apologises over apprenticeship off-the-job calculation blunder

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has apologised for causing confusion in its off-the-job training rule and updated its policy guidance to clarify how providers should be calculating it.

Providers were left baffled after the agency updated its “apprenticeship off the-job training policy background and examples” document on March 22, which for the first time stated that the 20 per cent calculation for full-time staff should be always be based on 30 hours of work per week, even where they are paid for many more.

Official funding rules for 2018/19 make no reference to a 30-hour cap in the calculation and providers have been including all “paid hours”.

We have reviewed this text, updated the documents accordingly and apologise for any confusion

Speaking at last week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference, the ESFA’s director of apprenticeships Keith Smith said the guidance was “intended to help you interpret the rules in the best way possible”, but admitted “there is a contradiction between the planned 30 hours and the paid contracted hours”.

In an update published today, the ESFA acknowledged the mistake and launched a survey to find out how the policy is working on the ground.

“On Friday 22 March we published version 2 of the off-the-job training guide and a compliant commitment statement template,” it said.

“It was brought to our attention that there was an error in paragraph 69 of the guide. We have reviewed this text, updated the documents accordingly on the off-the-job training page and apologise for any confusion.

“To help us understand the availability of off-the-job training information and how the policy is working in practice, we encourage you to complete this short survey by Friday 12 April 2019.”

Paragraph 69 in the “apprenticeship off the-job training policy background and examples” document, which referred to the 30-hour cap, has now removed.

Many in the sector will be relieved to hear the clarification, after many took to an online forum managed by the ESFA, called FE Connect, to raise concern about the issue last week.

One person, who goes by the username of PaulB, said the 30 hours cap would have “significantly reduce the number of OTJ hours required for our learners”, some by “around 100 hours”.

“In view of what I think is a change, and not a clarification of policy, I think most providers will need to review the OTJ requirement for all apprentices,” FE consultant Martin West warned at the time.

But it could also be that the confusion has not fully been removed.

MartinOutlaw on FE Connect points out that a note on the new commitment statement says: “The provider should enter the number of hours the apprentice works on average each week”, rather than basing the calculation on a total of actual contracted hours.