IfATE board 'stressed need' for better way of setting funding rates

The board of the government’s apprenticeship agency has “stressed” the need for a funding band methodology that “works, is clear and easy to understand”, following years of trailblazer group criticism.

Minutes from a meeting in September, published today, show the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is carrying out a “funding improvement project”.

Robert Nitsch, the apprenticeship quango’s chief operating officer, “reminded” the board that the aims of this project were to “redefine a funding process that is clear, easy to understand and draws upon the best available evidence”.

In May, the institute made “several changes” to improve the current funding process, but the minutes state the board was keen to see improvements to two particular areas – affordability and quote moderation.

“The next phase of the project is a fundamental redesign of the funding process and the board will be kept abreast of progress over the coming months,” they added.

“The board expressed their desire for a more discursive paper to enable further debate at the next board meeting in November. The board stressed the need for a methodology that works, is clear and easy to understand.”

The IfATE’s funding band decisions, particularly their lack of transparency, have been an issue for many in the FE sector ever since the institute launched, and has led to various appeals and subsequent delays to standards getting up and running.

In an interview with FE Week in February, then chief executive Sir Gerry Berragan acknowledged that it is a “common refrain that we are very secretive about how we do funding band calculations”.

He committed to becoming more transparent, but added that the institute was not willing to share the formula it uses to calculate funding bands for apprenticeship standards as it fears employer groups will “misuse” it to “inflate their costs”.

In May, the IfATE announced it would start evaluating the impact of its controversial funding band reviews, and promised to “take action” where reductions have made delivering apprentice training unviable.

The IfATE has held two funding band reviews over the past two years which have both prompted sector outrage.

The trailblazer group behind three popular management apprenticeship standards in the first review, for example, was backed by more than 150 employers – including retail giant Tesco – in its fight to overturn plans to slash their funding bands by up to £5,000.

Meanwhile, the trailblazer group creating three FE teaching standards, which had been in development since 2015, accused IfATE of exceeding its powers last year after claiming their proposed funding bands were just half what they would cost to deliver.

The group claimed that the recommended funding bands were not “based on evidence and on a formal, transparent process”.

The group successfully appealed the decision and two of the funding bands were increased, but it severely delayed the rollout of the standards until this year.

And earlier in 2019, many care apprenticeship providers said they would be pulling out of offering the level 2 adult care worker and level 3 lead adult care worker standards after the IfATE rejected calls to double their funding rates.