ESFA to demand actual off-the-job training hour data for every apprentice

Yet another data field for logging apprentices’ off-the-job training hours will be introduced to individual learner records (ILR) from next August.

It follows high-profile concern from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee about non-compliance with the unpopular rule going unchallenged.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency revealed today that a mandatory “off-the-Job training – actual hours” data field will added to the ILR from 2020/21.

This will “enable visibility of actual training delivered”, the ESFA said.

It is unclear whether the “actual hours” field will need to be updated by providers every month, or whether the figure will need to be inputted at the end of each apprenticeship programme.

Further details will soon be posted to the feconnect forum and open for comments until 20 September, the ESFA said.

It comes after the ESFA announced in May that from the 2019/20 academic year, a new mandatory field in the ILR would be added that requires providers to record “planned” off-the-job hours.

This replaced the “optional” field for recording how many OTJ training hours had been completed on a monthly basis, which was introduced to the ILR in 2018/19.

The ESFA said the mandatory field for 2019/20 will “help demonstrate compliance with the funding rules”.

In March the National Audit Office said in its apprenticeships progress report that the ESFA, in summer 2018, had just one “red risk” associated with delivery of the programme – that apprentices do not spend at least 20 per cent of their time doing off-the-job training.

The government’s spending watchdog warned that the agency has “limited assurance” in knowing whether the policy is being abided by, as even though audits may identify problems, there is “scope for providers to under-deliver for some time without this being picked up”.

“This is an important gap in oversight, because the provider continues to be paid as long as the apprentice remains on the programme,” its report said.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee, added that it was “concerning that the ESFA can’t be sure that apprentices are spending enough time on off-the-job training”.

The new mandatory ILR fields have therefore been introduced to mitigate the problem.

The policy, which requires apprentices to spend a fifth of their week on activities related to their course that are different to their normal working duties, has split the FE sector since its introduction in 2015.

Many have complained that the rule is the single biggest barrier to apprenticeship recruitment, but others view it as a vital part of the apprentices’ development.