ESFA will individually ‘challenge’ hundreds of apprenticeship providers after poor achievement rates

Providers that failed to meet the minimum standard for apprenticeship achievement rates last year will be informed next week of the government’s “action to challenge this situation”.

With a minimum standard threshold of 62 per cent for apprenticeships, the move is expected to impact on several hundred providers after the sector average rate fell 2.2 percentage points to just 64.7 per cent.

Action for failing to meet the minimum standard can be as severe as contract termination, according to the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s “oversight of independent training providers” operational guidance.

The ESFA said in an update today that they have now “reviewed” providers’ data published in the national achievement rates tables (NARTs) for 2018/19.

Where a provider did not meet the minimum standard achievement for “all-age apprenticeship provision”, the agency “will be writing to all providers from next week on our proposed action”.

The update added that the position on minimum standards is to “continue to be rigorous in driving up the quality of apprenticeship delivery”.

Providers have to have more than 40 per cent of their cohort on frameworks and standards above the 62 per cent to achieve the minimum standard.

The ESFA’s minimum standards policy states: “The apprenticeship tolerance level will remain at 40 per cent in 2018 to 2019.

“To calculate the tolerance we will calculate how many of the apprenticeships delivered by a provider are below the minimum standards threshold; if the QAR for an apprenticeship is below the 62 per cent threshold, we classify that apprenticeship as falling below the minimum standard.

“We will then calculate if this is more than 40 per cent of the total cohort for apprenticeships, if so the provider will be in scope for intervention.”

It means that even if a provider’s overall achievement rate was above 62 per cent, they could still fail the minimum standard.

The published NARTs list the overall apprenticeship achievement rates for providers with cohorts of at least 30, and shows 215 out of 737 (29 per cent) with an achievement rate below 62 per cent, failing the threshold but not necessarily failing the minimum standard.

The ESFA’s policy document reminds providers that “poor or declining education performance data can lead to escalating intervention action and we will act early in the best interests of students, apprentices and the public purse”.

It adds that where the underperforming provision “exceeds the tolerance level but the cohort is small and it is predominately new or immature provision that is below the minimum standards threshold, we will take this into account when deciding whether to take intervention action or what intervention action to take”.

Any provider in this position is “expected” to “set quality improvement targets for the poor provision as a priority”.

The agency’s operational guidance warns that where independent training providers fail on minimum standards, they can “expect to have their contracts terminated early, subject to protecting the interests of learners”.

It adds, however, that “where we have evidence that learners’ interests would be best served by maintaining the contract we will only do so under strict conditions with rigorous monitoring, and we will seek to terminate the contract immediately if the provider fails to improve”.

And “failure to comply with additional contractual obligations and/or remedy a serious breach may also lead to early termination of the contract”.

In an FE Week webcast on Monday, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan expressed concern at historic “low quality” apprenticeships delivery.

She said: “I was quite shocked at some of the lower quality delivery that happened in the first stages of the levy being introduced and I never want to go back to those days…I’ve met people on the doorstep who’ve actually said to me this is a load of old rubbish. We have to make sure that every apprenticeship is quality.”