Provider to stop delivering care apprentice standards after DfE rejects funding rate plea

A significant apprenticeship provider plans to stop recruiting in the care sector after the government rejected calls to increase funding rates.

The “devastating” decision is being taken by Surrey-based Professional Training Solutions (PTS) Limited, which offers hundreds of apprenticeships every year, mostly in health and social care.

It was desperate for the Department for Education to double the funding bands for the level 2 adult care-worker and level 3 lead adult care-worker standards, which have recently been reviewed by the Institute for Apprenticeships, to £6,000.

As a business I cannot sustain these poorly funded standards

The provider’s managing director Jackie Denyer told FE Week she is working at a 9 per cent loss upon achievement, and a 30 per cent loss if an apprentice doesn’t achieve, at the current band of £3,000.

But despite a robust plea from the trailblazer group which developed the standards, the government decided to keep the rates as they are.

Officials have now been accused of undervaluing the care sector, with one other provider branding the decision a “disgrace”.

“As a business I cannot sustain these poorly funded standards,” Denyer said.

“I’m devastated because it is something I feel really passionate about. The care sector is low paid and made up predominantly of women, and I’m devastated that the government undervalues the people who underpin the whole economy.”

It comes at an awkward time for the IfA, which announced last week it will soon start evaluating the impact of its controversial funding band reviews, and promised to “take action” where reductions have made delivering apprentice training non-viable.

In recent months, major retailer Halfords has scrapped all of its level 2 provision and blamed the move on the IfA’s decision to cut the funding for the standards it delivered. Meanwhile, Scania, a leading manufacturer of heavy trucks and buses, has warned that its industry’s long-term skills strategy is threatened by the proposal to slash funding for the apprenticeships it delivers.

Jill Whittaker, the managing director of HIT Training, offers around 1,500 apprenticeships every year on the care standards that didn’t see their rate increased.

She told FE Week her provider will continue to deliver them despite also working at a loss as “we believe strongly in the value of the care sector to our society”. However, they will need to “reduce the amount of face to face time that our staff spend with apprentices to minimise losses on these programmes”.

“It says something shocking about the society we live in that its government places little value on the skills of people who care for our most vulnerable citizens,” Whittaker said.

“Only this week Matthew Hancock, now health minister but previously minister for skills, was talking about investing in skills in the care sector to ensure carers and healthcare staff are properly trained.

“If this investment is skimped on as part of the IfA’s driving down of costs then we will have apprenticeships based on the lowest common denominator, driven by price not quality. It’s a disgrace.”

Our dear loved ones need support but are denied decent funding for the sector that trains the staff needed

Home Counties Carers is one employer that currently works with PTS to offer care apprenticeships. Its head of care, Ingrid Clift, said the company will “really struggle to provide these” following the decision of the provider to stop delivering the training.

“We are working in a sector where there is never enough staff due to an ageing UK, low wages, bad working conditions, long hours and more,” she said.

“Yet the expectation is that good-quality, caring, effective, responsive, safe and well-led care is provided 24/7.

“Our dear loved ones need care and support but are denied decent funding for the sector that trains and develops the staff needed to care for these precious people.”

A spokesperson for the IfA insisted the government is “fully committed to supporting apprenticeships at all levels and across all industry routes”.

“The aim with all standards that go through the funding review process is to ensure the funding band we recommend provides for quality apprenticeship training and assessment,” he added.

“Each standard is considered on its own merits following the same rigorous processes. This was the case with the care standards.”

PTS will continue to deliver some apprenticeships in health and social care, including the early-years educator and the nursery assistant standards, as well as in other sectors, such as business administration, customer service and leadership and management.