Training providers are “disappointed”, “extremely frustrated” and predict a “disjointed and likely stuttering start” to the government’s lifetime skills guarantee.
Funding for starts on the new fully funded level 3 offer for 24-year-old learners and above, announced by the prime minister last October, will be allocated to training providers as part of the adult education budget allocation from April 1 to July 31, 2021.
This means providers would need to both start and finish the mostly large full level 3 qualifications in a maximum window of just four months.
Typically, monthly AEB funding would be made available for courses continuing into the next academic year, but there are to be no AEB contract extensions this year.
FE Week understands the highly unusual limitation is a result of the Department for Education funding the scheme from a Treasury-specified National Skill Fund budget that starts in April, but routing payments to providers through AEB contracts that finish just four months later, in July.
And devolved mayoral authorities, such as the Greater London Authority, say they are still waiting for guidance from the government, but will likely have to follow the same policy for the end of this academic year.
The news was buried in version five of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s AEB funding rules for this year, published last week.
For “contract for services”, it says in paragraph 403: “Learners must complete their programme by July 31, 2021. Funding will not be allocated beyond July 31, 2021.”
The guidance goes on to say colleges, funded from a “grant” rather than a “contract for services”, will not face a four-month window for both starts and completions, as they will continue to receive funding for the next academic year.
The Department for Education confirmed colleges will not need to complete delivery of the qualifications by July 2021, but declined to comment on whether this competitive advantage over private training providers was fair.
‘It’s a wasted opportunity’
Brenda McLeish, chief executive of the training provider Learning Curve Group, said: “We are disappointed to learn that the National Skills Fund funding allocations [routed via the AEB] are only available until July 31, 2021.
“These timelines make it almost impossible for us to be able to deliver under this offer. They are substantial level 3 programmes, for which four months is not enough time. We have huge demand from learners. However, providers will need to be given access to funding for learners beyond July 31.
“It’s a wasted opportunity to have such a great initiative damaged by poor planning and contracting arrangements that will impact on learners.”
Jane Hickie, chief executive at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, hit out at the way AEB contracts were limiting the access to the level 3 Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme.
“Training providers and the learners they will be supporting face an unhelpful, disjointed and likely stuttering start through no fault of their own,” she said.
“This is especially disappointing considering the new level 3 adult offer is expected to play a key role in supporting disadvantaged adults without a prior level 3 train for careers in priority sectors such as adult care, construction and engineering.”
The DfE procurement team has yet to launch a promised £65 million tendering round for national AEB funding contracts starting August 2021.