The government is considering a U-turn on its planned date to switch off old-style apprenticeship frameworks as providers raise major concerns over the deadline.
Numerous training firms and colleges that spoke to FE Week warned they will have to pause starts in areas such as construction, stonemasonry, hairdressing, beauty therapy and logistic operations as they do not yet have a viable replacement standard ready for delivery.
The situation has been made worse by the Covid-19 outbreak, with many planned starts on the frameworks being withdrawn in recent months as employers battle cashflow issues.
New starts nationally for 2020 will be even more dismal reading
The deadline for stopping new starts on all frameworks is set for July 31
Rob Nitsch, the chief operating officer of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said last month that talks to extend this deadline were under way, but that the decision ultimately lies with the Department for Education.
A spokesperson for the DfE confirmed this week that they are “continuing to monitor the situation closely” and will “consider what further action may be needed so that apprenticeships can continue and businesses can meet their skills needs”.
The consideration is part of their attempts to measure the “full impact of the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Many providers shared their frustration at the current cut-off date with FE Week.
Building Crafts College delivers frameworks in stonemasonry to around 20 new apprentices every year.
A replacement level 2 stonemasonry standard has been in development since November 2017 and while it was finally “approved” by the IfATE on May 1, it still needs an assessment plan created and funding rate decided before it can be delivered.
The college has been involved in the trailblazer group for the standard, but quality manager Frances Hill said that when they have asked what to do with new apprentices this year, once the frameworks have been turned off, “we were told, you will have to hold them off as there will not be any funding for them as the end-point assessment is not ready”.
She added that the “official estimate” for the assessment plan is “six months, whereas the more realistic but unofficial estimate is 12 to 18 months”.
Michelle Turner, a director of Stone Restoration Services Ltd and lead trailblazer contact for the stonemasonry standard, said they are “aiming to finalise and submit the end-point assessment plan at the earliest opportunity, taking into account the added challenges around Covid-19”.
“We are planning for the long term and are confident that the new standard will be a major improvement on the old framework and will serve the sector well for years to come,” she added, but stopped short of giving an expected date for it to be ready for delivery.
Derek Whitehead, principal of Leeds College of Building, said there are “major concerns” that there “aren’t enough level 2 standards” in construction and the built environment to replace existing frameworks.
While there are 84 construction standards ready for delivery at various levels, Whitehead said there are “gaps in provision” such as “no standard for plumbers who just do bathroom installations”.
“New standards were put in the hands of employers to drive and unfortunately it’s not happened and it doesn’t help where the bulk of their employers, for example, in construction, are small and medium-sized businesses and micro companies, at that. The current Covid situation isn’t helping with such developments,” he told FE Week.
Whitehead said the frameworks cut off “definitely needs to be delayed” until a “full review by all sectors is undertaken together with end-point assessment capacity”.
Giles Holmes, senior account manager at Leicester College, shared similar concerns and called specifically for the level 3 and 5 built environment frameworks to stay on.
The college was planning to work with its employers this spring to decide what standards in construction they could use instead, but this has not been possible due to the impact of coronavirus.
Holmes said the “ability to be able to continue to deliver” the built environment frameworks in 2020-21 would mean “we can secure good numbers of starts in construction and work with the local levy construction employers to ensure we are preparing to deliver the right construction standards that meet their needs”.
David Rose, chief executive of KEITS Training Services Ltd in Hertfordshire, raised concern that there are no apprenticeship standards yet in animal care level 3 and floristry levels 2 and 3 ready for delivery to replace their frameworks.
He said the pandemic has put a stop to their planned recruitment and they will “miss the opportunity now, should the switch-off not be delayed”.
“Without extending frameworks, new starts nationally for 2020 will be even more dismal reading and there will be less opportunity for young people to follow an apprenticeship route,” Rose added.
Multiple providers named beauty therapy and hairdressing at level 3 as a gap in apprenticeship standard provision.
Standards are not like-for-like replacements for frameworks
While the beauty therapist level 2 standard was approved for use in 2018, Carla Hales, the business director at Debut Training Academy, said: “The standards for our industry have not been released yet, therefore if frameworks are discontinued we will not be able to start any new apprentices in August.
“This will be detrimental to our business as we have now had no new starts since March 2020.”
Charlotte Moreland, managing director at the National Hairdressing Training Academy, said they are “stuck between a rock and a hard place if the July date happens for switch-off”.
In response to the concerns, a spokesperson for the IfATE said standards are “not like-forlike replacements for frameworks”.
When asked what advice they would give to providers who believe there is no standard available that could be used instead of the current framework, such as for stonemasonry, the institute would not give a straight answer.
Instead, a spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the sector fully through the challenge of the lockdown and against the impact of Covid-19.
“We are looking at how we can progress all standards in development at best speed in the prevailing circumstances without compromising quality.”
The DfE added that where employers believe that there is a genuine occupational gap that is not met by existing standards, they should contact the institute via firstname.lastname@example.org.