ESFA demands final off-the-job hour data to 'support the work of audit'

A new field is set to be introduced to individual learner records (ILR) to support government audits of apprenticeship training.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency confirmed today that all FE providers will need to log “actual” off-the-job hours from August 2020.

It will apply to apprentices who started new programmes from 1 August 2019.

Plans for the new field were consulted on towards the end of last year and many in the sector were concerned that the agency would demand monthly updates.

But today’s announcement confirmed that providers will only need to enter the data once, at the end of each apprenticeship programme.

The move follows high-profile concern from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee about non-compliance with the unpopular rule, which requires apprentices to spend a fifth of their week on activities related to their course that are different to their normal working duties, going unchallenged.

In the NAO’s apprenticeships progress report published last March it said 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”.

In response, last May, the ESFA said 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.

Today’s announcement said: “We are committed to ensuring that apprentices receive the minimum of 20 per cent off-the-job training that legislation requires.

“To ensure learning plans reflect this, from 1 August 2019, we started collecting planned hours data. To provide further assurance on delivery we are now introducing a field capturing the actual hours delivered.

“From 1 August 2020 providers must input the total hours of off-the-job training that have been delivered to apprentices who started new apprenticeships from 1 August 2019 into the ILR.

“The actual hours field should be populated with the amount of off-the-job training delivered over the apprenticeship (up until the apprentice reaches gateway) and must be entered once, at the end of the programme.

“The actual hours ILR field will be used by ESFA in conjunction with the planned hours field to monitor delivery of the off-the-job training. It is our intention that the new field will support the work of audit, as providers must be able to supply evidence to support the figure entered during the audit process.”

The ESFA added that it will release more detailed information on this change in the next version of the ILR specification, and the 2020 to 2021 apprenticeship funding rules.