New funding bands should be talked about before they are introduced, not reviewed afterwards, says Sue Pittock

When the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) published the outcomes of its latest round of funding band reviews on July 1, it was only a matter of time before employers and training providers voiced their concerns – not only about the reviews, but how they are conducted.

Theo Paphitis, the retail magnate and entrepreneur, spoke about Ryman’s worry that the cuts to the retail team leader and retail manager programmes would be “damaging to the quality apprenticeships we want to offer”. This followed the decision by Halford to scrap its level 2 programme after a similar cut and Scania speaking out about the impacts of the now confirmed cut to the heavy goods vehicle standard.

In a reformed system that pledged to put employers in the driving seat and to work collaboratively, why are so many employers unhappy with how the IfATE is allocating funding bands?

In May, Lucy Rigler, the IfATE’s head of funding, acknowledged that the review of funding bands “had not always been well-received” and committed to reviewing the impact of any reviews on subsequent starts on programmes, and other measures. But what the sector needs is greater collaboration and communication before the confirmation of a new funding band, not a review of the impact of a cut after the event.

As the leader of a training provider, there is no feeling of collaboration in the review process. We have heard from trailblazer chairs that communication throughout the review is limited, with appeals rejected with no feedback as to why.

When funding bands are reduced, providers often cannot afford to sustain the planned delivery model

The process feels hampered by the IfATE’s concern that greater transparency would lead to abuse by providers. Sir Gerry Berragan, the institute’s chief executive, said that his refusal to share the funding formula was driven by concerns that providers would “misuse” the information to increase costs.

This lack of engagement and collaboration ultimately impacts on the employer and the learner, putting the future availability and quality of programmes at risk.

At Remit we decided to start delivering standards as soon as they became available. We are now two years in, with fantastic results in end-point assessment, but this has come at a real cost. Delivering apprenticeship standards well is an expensive business. High-quality resources, technology-enabled content and expert tutors to deliver technical workshops and masterclasses all come at a significant investment, and all this before you consider the costs of end-point assessment.

Where funding bands are reduced, providers often cannot afford to sustain the delivery model they originally planned. Programme content must be reviewed, and efficiencies must be sought. This is not something that employers want to hear; they want to pay for a product that delivers what their business needs. This ultimately affects employers’ engagement with apprenticeships, as well as their appetite to invest time and energy designing and building programmes with their training partners that are vulnerable to changes after launch.

The government is right to want good value for money, but it should pay for what it asks for. Detailed initial assessments of knowledge, skills and behaviour and high-quality enrolment sessions that set expectations for the programme are essential, but not paid for as part of the apprenticeship programme. Upskilling to level 2 functional skills is important, but not adequately funded at £471 per aim where the learner has not achieved this level during all their time in the school’s system.

Remit really cares about what it does. We don’t want to be in a position where we have to impact the quality of our programmes to deliver within a reduced funding band. We certainly don’t want to do this without having had the right opportunity to discuss what we deliver, how we deliver it, and the impact it creates for learners, employers and UK plc with the IfATE in an open and transparent way. We all need to work together and bring to life the spirit of collaboration the IfATE so often talks about.