Training providers were left “appalled” this week after the Education and Skills Funding Agency made the “ridiculous” decision that all who are on RoATP will need to re-apply yet again.

“They just don’t get what we are going through, do they?” was how one managing director of an independent provider reacted, while a college principal declared this is the “last thing my team need at the moment” as they continue to battle against the pandemic.

This will be the third time that providers will have had to apply to the register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) since its launch in March 2017. The most recent “refresh” was in January 2019.

Last month’s FE white paper revealed that the government would undertake another “full refresh” of the register commencing in April 2021. The aim is to adopt “more stringent entry criteria for both new and existing providers, to better determine whether providers have the capability and capacity to be able to deliver these higher-quality apprenticeships”.

A “new set of application criteria” has now been created which every provider will need to meet to be able to deliver apprenticeships. A “phased reapplication” process will begin from May.

Guidance published about this on Wednesday also hinted at a potentially major change in the apprenticeships that providers are allowed to deliver.

It said that the agency is looking for providers to “evidence their capacity and expertise” and are considering how this “may be required beyond the initial application process where providers wish to expand their delivery to new areas”.

Former ESFA director of apprenticeships Keith Smith told FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference last year that he was working on plans to require providers to be “accredited” for the apprenticeship standards they offer.

FE Week asked the agency if the “subject-specific expertise” requirement meant that providers would need to re-apply to the register again in the future if they wanted to move into new sectors, but a spokesperson would only say that “further guidance will be published in due course”.

Smith also previously spoke about imposing earning limits on new apprenticeship firms, following various cases of new providers growing too quickly and struggling to manage demand.

The latest example of this was revealed by this publication last week. A freight company called (UK) got on to the register last March and then became the fastest growing provider in the country, delivering over 1,100 apprenticeships in eight months, mostly to apprentices working in care homes. The provider is now under ESFA investigation and faces going bust after the agency stopped payments.

Guidance published on Wednesday did not give any mention to new provider earning limits, but the ESFA told FE Week they have not ruled these out.


It’s the last thing my team need at the moment

A key part of the RoATP refresh is to kick providers off that aren’t delivering. Any provider that has not delivered training in the most recent six months will be considered for removal from May 2021.

Lianne Onslow, owner of training and learning consultancy firm LMO Development, said there “must be other ways of identifying and dealing with concerning providers”.

She was one of dozens in the sector who took to Twitter to express their outrage at the ESFA’s reapplication announcement.

“Blooming heck. I remember the RoATP reapplication like it was yesterday, probably because it near enough was yesterday,” she tweeted.

Elsewhere, Sue Bishop said: “I actually can’t believe they are doing this to us right now, we’re all on our knees trying to develop and deliver quality remote learning. Give us a break ESFA.”

Chris Todd, principal of Derwentside College, added: “Nooooooo!???!? Surely we can avoid this for those of us who are continuing to do well. It’s the last thing my team need at the moment.”

Jamie Rail, managing director of The Focus Training Group, said the decision shows the ESFA has a “complete and total lack of understanding of what’s going on out on the ground”.

Consultant Stefan Drew also tweeted: “I despair. I keep seeing FE leaders telling us the government are on our side, listening and helping. This disproves the optimism and brings a hint of reality to the situation. There is little help…just more applications for what most colleges have been doing well.”

RoATP has been closed to new applications since April 2020. The only exception has been for levy-paying employers delivering services critical during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, any providers that have been successful through this exceptions policy since its inception will still be subject to the refresh planned from May.