AELP conference round-up: Top officials talk traineeships, achievement rates and T Levels

Providers, regulators and government representatives headed to Manchester this week for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) autumn conference – the organisation’s first in-person event since the Covid-19 pandemic. FE Week has rounded up the key take-aways…

ESFA’s Evans concedes traineeship target will not be met

The government will “not quite” achieve its ambition of 43,000 traineeship starts this year, a top skills civil servant has admitted as they expressed “frustration” at delays to the programme’s expansion. 

Kirsty Evans, the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s director of FE, has made the concession just three months into the 2021/22 academic year. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak earmarked £126 million this year for the “largest ever expansion” of the pre-employability programme. 

Kirsty Evans

It followed a £111 million traineeship investment in 2020/21 to achieve almost 37,000 starts – a target that was missed by more than half as only 17,000 enrolments were recorded last year. 

Starts figures for this year have not yet been released, but addressing Tuesday’s AELP conference, Evans admitted the government will not reach the target of 43,000 starts in 2021/22. 

Providers previously warned that progress towards the goal has been scuppered by the delayed 19-to-24 traineeships procurement – an issue that FE Week understands personally “annoyed” Sunak – as well as the belated 16-to-19 market entry exercise that is still yet to be finalised.

Evans told delegates: “I’ve been frustrated about how long it has taken but it’s great that we’ve now got that exercise underway.”

 The tender closed at the end of October and results are due to be announced later this month. 

Evans also told conference there are “conversations happening” about extending the £3,000 employer cash incentives for hiring new apprentices beyond January 2022.

She said she is not part of those conversations, however, so could not share any further information. 

IfATE’s Nitsch to ITPs: ‘Keep an open mind on T Levels’

Independent training providers have been implored to keep an “open mind” about offering T Levels by the government’s technical education quango. 

Rob Nitsch, the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s chief operating officer, told AELP delegates he was aware the new flagship post-16 qualifications were “a long stretch at the moment”. 

But as take-up has been “affected by the pandemic”, he added, “I encourage you to approach them with an open mind and also to see the opportunities they offer for learners”.

From left: Chair Shane Mann and Rob Nitsch

Of the 194 institutions offering T Levels during their initial rollout between 2020 and 2022, just four are independent training providers.

None of the four was part of the first wave in 2020, but two joined in 2021, and a further two will begin delivery in 2022. 

Around 1,300 young people started T Levels last year. Figures for this year’s enrolments have not yet been released. 

To encourage more private providers to look at T Levels, Nitsch told AELP’s conference that there is work ongoing on the feasibility of an adult option for T Levels and changing the entry-level requirements, particularly around English and maths.

The institute, which is responsible for the rollout of T Levels, is also exploring how to make the substantial industrial placement component “easier” to deliver across the country and “how we bridge into work and other forms of training at the end of T Levels”.

Nitsch also gave an update on the proposal for a level 2 “public sector organisation administrative assistant” apprenticeship, which was submitted earlier this year after repeated bids for a level 2 business administration apprenticeship standard to replace the old-style popular framework were rejected.

He said it is “some distance off” meeting the quality bar for apprenticeships and refused to commit to giving the proposed standard a “rubber stamp at all”.

The institute has “had a look” at the proposal, and while his quango is “not casting off” the trailblazer group, they will need to change it substantially to meet the quality threshold.

Ofsted’s Joyce calms fears on achievement rates

Training providers will not have their Ofsted grades limited if their achievement rates take an expected dip this year, the watchdog’s deputy director for FE has promised. 

Paul Joyce reiterated to AELP delegates this week that Ofsted’s new education inspection framework places “much, much less weight on data” than the old common inspection framework.

He said this is not to say that achieving qualifications is not important “because it clearly is”, but inspectors will look “in the round” when judging providers’ delivery.

Paul Joyce

Many in the sector fear that apprenticeship qualifications achievement rates (QARs) will take a substantial hit this year, partly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are concerned this will spark more debate around the quality of apprenticeships, which Ofsted has repeatedly said is “troubling” . 

Apprenticeship QARs dropped slightly from 64.8 per cent in 2018/19 to 64.2 per cent in 2019/20. They have not been published at institution level for the past two years owing to the pandemic but will return in 2021/22.

 Joyce told conference: “I can assure colleagues in the room that just because achievement rates may dip or may not be as high for a number of reasons that will not lead inspectors to limit their judgments.

“We focus far more on the development of knowledge skills and behaviours.”

He also said Ofsted had managed to complete 800 new provider monitoring visits last year despite Covid.

Inspectors were “very concerned” in the first phase of the visits because the number of providers being awarded ‘insufficient progress’ grades was “particularly high”. He added that at the end of the academic year, around one in five providers were not making sufficient progress.



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