At the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) annual conference in London, the Chairman Martin Dunford announced that the representative body would be renamed as the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) with immediate effect. The name-change, which was well received by delegates at the conference, will now be put to members for formal ratification at a forthcoming EGM.

AELP Chief Executive Graham Hoyle, in writing to all members at the conclusion of the conference, explained: “It has been apparent for some time now that our name – the Association of Learning Providers – was too restrictive and did not properly reflect the diverse range of activities that have long been undertaken by you – our members – working as you are with hundreds of thousands of employers, supporting them to develop the skills of their workforces through the delivery of Apprenticeships and other forms of work based learning, with many also working with the unemployed, preparing them to enter the workplace and sustainable employment.

The full extent of this involvement has often not been recognised or appreciated by those your Association seeks to influence on your behalf and the introduction of the word ‘employment’ clarifies and emphasises the employer facing role that has been a key strength of our members over many years.”

Presentation highlights from day one

As well as making the announcement of the name-change, Martin Dunford used his keynote speech at the conference to call for the government to formulate a single cross-departmental strategy that would fully join up the employability needs of the unemployed with the skills needs of employers. He said that the success of the government’s new Work Programme would depend on providers bringing together the employment, employability and skills agendas.

Skills minister John Hayes told AELP members that they were ‘integral to realising the government’s skills strategy’ which had been driven to the top of the political agenda. He confirmed that BIS was looking for better measures of programme outcomes. In taking questions from the audience, the minister said that despite the reported frustrations of providers’ employer customers about funding provision for the over 25s, the government had to prioritise public expenditure on the younger age groups.

He reported that the current ESOL impact assessment was looking at the issue of effectiveness as well as fairness. He also said that the door was not closed on a possible single line budget for 16-18 provision.

Speaking for employers, David Frost of the BCC said that the apprenticeship brand must be protected as a quality badge. Simon Waugh of the NAS acknowledged that there was a lack of available places for young people wanting to become an apprentice and he expressed concern that they would become disenfranchised if their demand was not met. The NAS planned to treble level 4-5 apprenticeships in areas like engineering. Bio-sciences, digital, creative and travel/tourism were other priority sectors.

[John Hayes, the FE Minister] also said that the door was not closed on a possible single line budget for 16-18 provision.”

Lord Kenneth Baker of the Edge Foundation said that apprenticeships should be regarded as a possible first choice for all and not just for some. He reported that there would be an announcement in mid-July concerning the 40 applications for setting up University Technical Colleges (UTCs).

Nigel Snook of the conference headline sponsor EDI looked ahead at what was on the horizon for learning providers. He highlighted the greater use of technology and elearning, tougher regulation with more focused bureaucracy, new funding models and the need for some stability in the system.

For GTA England, David Sherlock said that apprenticeships benefited from the more heavy involvement of employers in their design. Rob Wye of LSIS expressed concern that there had been a decline in ‘outstanding’ grades among providers. He said the future priorities of a slimmed-down LSIS would include improving teaching and learning, STEM, apprenticeships, learner voice, new technologies, leadership and management, and curricula development.

Glenys Stacey of Ofqual emphasised that her organisation’s role was to regulate the awarding bodies and not to check on individual qualifications. She called on providers to get involved with Ofqual’s innovation project, details of which were on the body’s website.

The YPLA’s chief executive Peter Lauener closed the first day of the conference by confirming to AELP members that the YPLA was prepared for an open dialogue on flexibilities within ‘build your own’ programmes for the 16-18 cohort. This followed his letter to Graham Hoyle which had been posted on the AELP website. He added that there was money available for imaginative provision for the NEET group and that there would be a funding formula consultation in the summer for programme funding.

Presentation highlights from day two

The conference’s second day began with SFA chief executive Geoff Russell telling independent providers that ‘the doors had been flung open’ with the arrival of a single budget, but he warned them not to underestimate the colleges’ ability to compete. Later he added that it was expensive for the SFA to close a failing college, so other alternative solutions had to be considered like mergers or for private providers to become involved in their management.

 ‘the doors had been flung open’ with the arrival of a single budget”

Looking ahead, he said that the expected full implementation of ‘outcome incentive payments’ by 2013 was important because providers would only get full payment if the learner secured both a job and a qualification as a result of the provision. In answer to a question from the floor, Mr Russell explained in detail the on-going development of the ACTOR register, acknowledging that there was room for improvement and additional questions on the form, including one on a provider’s investment in facilities.

He stressed that ACTOR was a highly objective system, based around performance, which meant that contract awards were no longer dependent on bid-writing and local relationships. The SFA was looking at being more transparent about providers’ scores in comparison with others but it needed to avoid a position where providers could ‘work the system’.

Peter Van Den Broeck of Virgin Media explained how his company’s apprenticeship programme delivered a 90 per cent retention rate and a 96 per cent success rate. Virgin believed that apprentices represented a good return on investment because they are ‘committed’. Dave Simmonds of CESI began his speech by asking why AELP had taken so long to change its name, adding that the integrated employment and skills message was getting though to policymakers. He said that the payment by results system for the Work Programme and the high bar which had been set for the programme’s success rates meant that skills provision would play an important part in achieving sustainable employment for clients.

Employment minister Chris Grayling thanked providers for their hard work in getting the Work Programme off the ground so quickly and then stressed to them that there would be no caps on their provision. He underlined the importance of the Merlin standard in protecting the interests of subcontractors and thanked AELP’s Paul Warner for his part in its formulation. The minister also stated his support for the integrated employment and skills agenda and added that he worked very closely with John Hayes on the issue.

He said that Jobcentre Plus offices were making it their business to know of local employers’ skills needs. On youth unemployment, he said that the government’s response comprised four strands: the 8-week Work Experience scheme; Work Academies; the expansion of apprenticeships; and support into the Work Programme for the hardest to help. He added that the services of new national careers service would be visible and accessible at DWP/JCP offices and websites.

In a farewell address before his retirement, Alan Tuckett of NIACE stressed the importance of learning for adults to achieve sustainable employment although he said that the latter term meant different things for different people. He said that a number of issues needed to be addressed for greater progress including looking at the role of qualifications and whether licence to practise should become more widespread. Bert Clough of unionlearn explained how employers liked unionlearn projects and pointed out that a government investment of £120m over the last ten years had resulted in an extra £50m of private investment being leveraged in. He urged more independent providers to apply for unionlearn’s Quality Award.

services of new national careers service would be visible and accessible at DWP/JCP offices and websites.”

The conference was addressed by two AELP provider members. Jane Quarmby of TQ Training said that a lot of the ongoing reforms to the skills system resembled Groundhog Day and she called for more stability and less inspection. Policymakers had to be careful when talking about ‘more for less’ that quality was not compromised. Jane Quarmby also expressed scepticism on the proposed loans system for learners, arguing that poorly waged people would not be able to afford them.

Frank McMahon of YH Training Services said that employers were willing to negotiate a price for training just like any other service they paid for, if they perceived that they were getting value. Employers should therefore be making a financial contribution to over-25 apprenticeships, but it would not happen if quality providers were being undercut by other local providers who marketed the programme as ‘free’ to employers.

A session on the NEET issue ended the conference. Peter Little, the independent chair of the DfE LLDD advisory group, presented evidence that over many years young people with special education needs (SEN) and disabilities were over-represented in the NEET cohort. For example, 46 per cent of 22-24 year old disabled people were NEET. Mr Little had been working with DfE on redefining the apprenticeship offer for young people who have a disability or learning difficulty and he said that he would welcome provider and employer input into this. He also flagged up that the outcome of the SEN green paper consultation would be published very shortly and this might include opportunities for providers.

Jane Stacey of Barnardo’s set out how the charity re-engages young people with education and training. She pointed to the advantages of open enrolment, flexible start dates, extra time to complete qualifications and individualised learning programmes. Flexibility in allowing young people to set their own pace was important while a good and supportive relationship between the teacher and learner was helpful although teachers should never be ‘mates’ with learners.

AELP Chief Executive Graham Hoyle summed up some key themes from the conference, including the danger that funding rate cuts might mean that quality provision can no longer be afforded in sectors such as catering. He also highlighted the funding divide between pre and post 25 provision as an increasing frustration for employers and providers, while loans represented ‘a huge unknown’ for the skills system. The system still suffered from unnecessary bureaucratic costs which suggested a lack of trust in providers.

Low train and hot house apprenticeships

Simon Waugh, Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) spoke about how successful the sector had been in recent months at recruiting apprenticeships (see page 1). However. as outlined in his slide below, the NAS are keen to eradicate ‘low train’ and the sort of ‘hot-house’ apprenticeship delivery models that were described on the front cover of the first edition of FE Week.

He said of other challenges that “quality is improving but need clearer definition”,  “Growth in Advanced and Higher (level 3+) Apprenticeships has been slower than in entry Intermediate (level 2)” and there is a “need to diversify programme by level and sectors”.

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