There have been some big changes to lockdown rules which impact the FE and skills sector over the next six weeks, but guidance for exactly what England’s training providers other than schools and colleges should do has been absent.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers spoke with skills minister Gillian Keegan and the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s director of apprenticeships Peter Mucklow yesterday to raise key questions that members want answers to.
FE Week is also seeking further details from the Department for Education, and we will update this page as and when. Here is what we know in the meantime.
Should providers close centres to most learners?
Yes. The AELP said it understands that the government is working on new guidance which is relevant to providers other than universities and colleges.
But overall, the expectation is that independent training providers are “required to repeat what they did during the first lockdown and conduct as much learning online as possible”.
Like schools and colleges, providers should only offer onsite training to vulnerable learners and children of key workers.
The DfE has removed a rule that previously said those students on programmes that require access to specialist equipment “may continue to spend some time on site”.
Can face-to-face end-point assessments continue as planned?
Yes. Face-to-face assessment “can continue – either in colleges and training providers’ premises, or in employers’ covid-secure settings – for vulnerable younger apprentices, those who need access to specialist equipment, and those whose learning cannot be delivered remotely”, the DfE told FE Week.
The department added that where they are able to do so in line with line with Covid-19 guidance, apprentices can “continue to make use of the existing flexibilities and discretions approved through the process set out by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to undertake their end-point assessment”.
But the use of technology for remote assessment is “encouraged where it is appropriate”.
Will centre-assessed grades for functional skills testing be permitted?
Not likely. In the light of Monday’s statement on the cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams this summer, the AELP asked if the DfE and Ofqual agree that the functional skills testing logjam should be relieved immediately by the reintroduction of centre-assessed grades.
Ofqual “indicated” to AELP yesterday that they are “reviewing options to resolve the functional skills testing logjam” but “we don’t expect CAGs to be among them at this stage but we will keep up the pressure for a resolution”.
As revealed by FE Week in October, thousands of apprentices have been “stuck in limbo” unable to complete their programmes as awarding bodies struggled to adapt their functional skills assessments where traditional tests cannot take place.
Will there be a new provider relief scheme?
Possibly. The AELP said that “without making any commitment”, ministers are “considering the case for bringing back some form of provider relief”.
Training programme starts are expected to now crash again following the new national lockdown which means minimal income for providers for at least six weeks.
Two rounds of supplier relief were run last year which allowed payment in advance of apprenticeship and adult education budget training to help keep cash-strapped providers stay afloat.
Will asymptomatic testing be rolled out in ITPs?
Possibly. Schools and colleges have been given the go ahead and funding from government to set up rapid mass Covid-19 testing of staff and students this month.
ITPs are currently not part of the plans.
But the AELP now understands that asymptomatic testing for ITPs and their learners is “being considered”.
“Our understanding is that there may initially be some prioritisation according to the type of learning provision,” last night’s email said.
If your provider is seeking guidance on any other training issues relating to the new lockdown but not getting answers, please let us know by commenting below and we will put the questions to the DfE.