Government researchers call for financial incentive to assess apprentices' prior learning

The government has been urged by their own researchers to stump up funding for assessing prior learning in apprenticeships, after providers were found to be struggling with the financial viability of complying with the rule.

It comes as the Department for Education launches a recruitment drive for three new apprenticeship compliance officers, who will focus on specific “key” funding rules, such as recognition of prior leaning.

Prior learning refers to relevant skills, knowledge and behaviours gained before starting an apprenticeship, and must be taken into account by providers when negotiating a price with an employer to ensure cash is not being claimed unnecessarily.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency, which warns it may “recover funding” where this does not happen, audited a series of providers last year and found the rule was the “main issue causing funding errors”.

The approval and funding committee at the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has also previously “flagged concerns about how best to ensure that prices for apprenticeship training were being appropriately adjusted to take account of prior learning”.

The DfE commissioned the Learning and Work Institute to research the issue last year, the report from which has been published today.

It highlighted two key issues that affect the extent to which prior learning is assessed “consistently and robustly”, the first being the “financial viability” for providers to carry out “pre-programme assessments” for which they receive no funding – and “no financial benefit if an individual is found to be ineligible”.

The second was that it “may not be in providers’ and employers’ interests to make adaptions that could lower the price because employers are motivated to use up their levy pot and providers want to maximise income”.

Providers also reported that there was a lack of guidance about how much the apprenticeship cost should be reduced in relation to an apprentice’s identified prior learning.

To combat this, the researchers said the DfE “could consider how it can incentivise providers and employers to ensure that assessment of prior learning is carried out properly, for example by making funding available for this”.

In addition, or alternatively, the department “could consider how to improve compliance with funding rules, for example through more visible audit of proof of assessment and adjustments from the ESFA”.

FE Week reported in September 2019 how the Education and Skills Funding Agency was bolstering its compliance and prevention teams by hiring almost 30 individuals to work in the agency’s provider market oversight division, led by Matthew Atkinson.

Three new apprenticeship compliance officer posts are currently being advertised by the ESFA, the adverts for which state their specific “areas of focus” will include “thematic reviews” of off-the-job training and recognition of prior leaning. They will also “increase oversight of employer compliance”.

The Learning and Work Institute’s research involved qualitative interviews with 30 levy paying employers, 25 apprenticeship providers, and 25 apprentices.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Assessment of prior learning is an important part of an apprenticeship, ensuring that the training is relevant and valuable to the apprentice and their employer. We continue to consider options that strengthen the assessment process.”

Three other FE-related research reports have been published today by the DfE. You can find links to each one below:

Public sector apprenticeship target reporting: research report, October 2020.

Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships: research report.

Post-16 institutions and providers omnibus: wave 7 survey.