Former Dragon hits out at IfATE over cut to level 3 and 4 standards

The chair of major high-street employer Ryman, ex-Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis, has accused the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education of “damaging” apprenticeship quality.

This follows IfATE’s decision to cut funding to the level 3 retail team leader and the level 4 retail manager standards, from £5,000 to £4,000 and £6,000 to £5,000 respectively.

Paphitis told FE Week that reducing those funding bands is “damaging to the quality apprenticeships we want to offer”, as it will mean training providers could struggle to provide learners with the breadth of learning experience that Ryman would prefer.

Both are popular standards, with 5,119 starts for the retail team leader standard, and 2,369 for the retail manager standard, according to latest ESFA starts data to January 2019.

The stationery giant may be forced to pay top-ups to finance the programme it wants providers to deliver, Paphitis said.

He added: “We are great believers in quality, not quantity. Reducing the costs will make it even harder for some companies to spend their pot in the way it was originally intended.”

The retail apprenticeships were two of 17 standards that had revised funding bands published this week, following a review by the IfATE.

This latest stinging criticism of IfATE’s decision-making will not be welcomed by skills minister Anne Milton, who told FE Week she wanted the quango to have a much more “collaborative relationship” with providers.

There is little sign of that this week, with hospitality apprenticeship provider HIT Training accusing the institute of engaging in a “race to the bottom”.

Two level 3 hospitality standards have been cut from £5,000 to £4,000 this week: hospitality supervisor and senior production chef.

A spokesperson said the institute “always call on us for support when there is a funding band review, but frankly, it seems that in spite of providing a significant evidence base, they invariably choose the cheapest option”.

“We will cut our cloth to suit, but it is a real pity high-quality provision will be removed from the sector,” they added.

People 1st, which represents the standards’ trailblazer groups, appealed against IfATE’s decision to cut the four standards.

All four appeals were rejected by IfATE, as were two against cuts to the level 3 bus and coach engineering technician standard, which was cut from £18,000 to £16,000; and the level 3 heavy-vehicle service and maintenance technician, which was cut from £18,000 to £15,000.

The cuts may mean training providers decide these two standards are not viable to run, warned the standards’ trailblazer group representative, head of fleet at First Bus Jon Harman.

Of the 17 new funding bands published this week, only one standard had an increase: the level 3 highway electrician/service operative, from £9,000 to £12,000.

Six remained the same, while ten have had cuts.

There have been two funding band reviews, in May last year and the following December, which have led to several standards having funding cuts, including the popular chartered manager degree apprenticeship.

Three funding band reviews from December are outstanding.

An IfATE spokesperson said: “The aim for all standards reviewed is to ensure they have the most appropriate funding band to support high-quality delivery, and provide value for money for employers and taxpayers.

“Each standard has been considered on its own merits following the same approach used throughout the review process to ensure consistency.”

The spokesperson said IfATE had worked collaboratively with trailblazer groups and collated evidence that was used fairly and in a balanced way.

“We welcome feedback and will assess the impact of any changes to funding bands over the coming months, taking action where appropriate.”