Terminated: ESFA bin apprenticeship providers for low achievement rates

Apprenticeship providers have been left shocked after the Education and Skills Funding Agency ignored their own coronavirus deferral policy and sent out contract termination letters, FE Week can reveal. 

The business-ending intervention for failing the minimum standards for achievement rates comes just weeks after the ESFA wrote to providers claiming they would postpone decisions until as late as October, to take account of the “continuing challenges” relating to Covid-19. 

One provider that did not wish to be named, with hundreds of apprentices, shared with FE Week a letter it received this week that said the agency was providing “notice of termination” on July 31. Access to all funding would then end and the training firm would be removed from the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers. 

The letter went on to say all new starts must cease immediately and the provider must “do its utmost to minimise disruption caused to apprentices”. 

The provider shared the reasons for their underperformance with the ESFA in February and thought the matter was closed as they had not received the deferral letter sent to other providers last month. 

When FE Week challenged the Department for Education on the unexpected interventions this week a spokesperson said there had been no change relating to deferrals but that in a small number of cases contracts are being terminated at this stage. 

The DfE refused to comment further on why the ESFA was ignoring their own published deferral policy by taking action during the global pandemic. 

As previously reported, overall national apprenticeship achievement rates dropped 2.2 per cent points last year to just 64.7 per cent. 

The achievement rate for the new apprenticeship standards were particularly low, averaging just 46.6 per cent compared to 68.7 per cent for frameworks. 

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

The contract termination letter said that in coming to their decision the ESFA had taken account of the evidence submitted by the provider along with “the scale of underperformance against the minimum standard threshold for 2018 to 2019 and your organisation’s track record relative to the minimum standard in previous years”. 

In an FE Week webcast at the end of April, 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.” 

Once a notice of contract termination has been issued, the DfE said the ESFA works with the provider to ensure that the apprentices and their employers receive advice about how to successfully complete their learning. This, they said, could include finishing with the same provider or transferring to a new provider, and that in practice, this depends on the time left to complete the learning activity. 

The spokesperson went on to say that the ESFA will continue to talk to and monitor all providers who have failed minimum standards for all aged apprenticeships in 2018 to 2019, as part of their management of further education.