Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship funding at risk for slow progress drop-outs

But providers are up in arms about the bureaucracy of the 'impractical' new rule

But providers are up in arms about the bureaucracy of the 'impractical' new rule

Funding will be at risk of clawback from August where an apprentice drops out without making enough progress towards their planned training, the Education and Skills Funding Agency has revealed.

But providers are up in arms about the bureaucracy required to be compliant with the rule, which they say is “impractical” and flies in the face of government efforts to simplify the system. 

The new requirement, published in the ESFA’s draft apprenticeship funding rules for 2022/23 (pictured above), states that where an apprentice withdraws from their programme and they have made “insufficient progress towards their training plan”, then funds will be at risk of recovery. 

By insufficient progress the ESFA said it means the apprentice is “more than four weeks behind on the planned delivery of training, but the training has not been replanned or the apprentice has not been put on a break in learning”. 

Around half of all apprentices on the government’s new-style apprenticeship standards have dropped out in each of the past two years. 

FE Week understands the ESFA wants to introduce the rule in an effort to tackle cases where providers have received monthly payments for apprentices up to the point they dropped out but had not delivered the amount of training claimed for. 

The ESFA pointed out that the requirement for an apprentice to be “actively learning”, or to be put on a break in learning after four weeks, has been in the funding rules since 2018/19. 

A spokesperson said the agency is now strengthening this area to “ensure learners are getting the level of training they rightly expect”. 

But providers have complained that replanning the delivery of training, which must be agreed with and signed off by the employer, every four weeks is impractical. Those that spoke to FE Week but did not wish to be named said it is not uncommon for some apprentices to go six to 12 weeks without training, particularly in hospitality and care sectors where there are busy spikes throughout the year. 

Providers claim that the four-week rule is also inflexible to account for holidays, illness and when apprentices learn at different speeds. 

“Active learning” can include off-the-job training or English and maths. Sector leaders question how auditors will measure progress and quantify how effective that learning is. 

The providers said they understand the intent behind the ESFA’s rule, but warned that agency officials are failing to take into consideration the practicality of complying with it for every apprentice. 

One senior leader from a large apprenticeship provider said compliance with the rule will depend on how well ordered each provider is in terms of keeping on top of learner progress, including what systems they have in place and how they can evidence it. 

“Big providers who have invested heavily in rigorous evidential methods should have this covered, but I can imagine across the wider sector, especially with smaller providers, I can understand how they would be very concerned about this. 

“The ESFA is asking for learners to be on track and for providers to not claim funding whilst apprentices are not making progress. So I get it on paper but it is harder practically, and some providers will get caught out which means money clawed back.” 

The ESFA published the draft apprenticeship funding rules for 2022/23 on May 27 and included a number of other changes that have been well received by the providers, such as removing the 20 per cent requirement for off-the-job training and replacing it with a baseline. The agency has also watered down English and maths requirements. 

Skills minister Alex Burghart said the changes had been made in an effort to make the apprenticeship system “simpler to use” for employers, training providers and apprentices themselves. 

But providers said the introduction of the clawback rule for apprentice drop-outs who make slow progress seems more like “complification” than simplification. 

The funding rules are only in draft version and could change before they come into effect from August 2022. Providers have until June 24 to submit their feedback. 



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4 Comments

  1. Bob smith

    Another example of where the ESFA are totally out of touch with reality and not one person in their team who have delivered an Apprenticeship in volume or more likely been an Apprentice.

    It’s all framed that providers are ‘on the take’. What about those Apprentices who require double the amount of input because they don’t learn as quick- no more funding for that

    What about where the average duration is longer than the expected duration because of employer issues – no allowance or funding for that

    Still an assumption that costs are incurred evenly during a programme when they aren’t as significant cost is in the recruitment and on boarding cycle- no recognition of that in the funding profiles

    The ESFA don’t want it to work with Apps and have an awful attitude towards providers. It’s concerning providers won’t be named through fear of retribution from the ESFA

    • Robert Bebsom

      I’ve taken over several private training providers, normally when they have gone bust and this is a real issue. Some of the worst examples I have found demonstrate that no learning has taken place at all, with over 12 months funding claimed. At least these new controls will potentially stop this from happening and if you’re a genuine provider, then you will have nothing to fear.

      Apprentices that require more input can have their programme duration extended, and you can also claim additional support funding for them. There is therefore, an allowance for this.

      I see these changes as good. Yes, they will make life a bit harder for those delivering apprenticeships, but if you are not demonstrating learning every month with each of your learners, then you’ve no right to be an apprenticeship provider. These changes will help drive up quality.

      • Jane Beveridge

        Well said, I fully agree with you Robert. I suspect we may be in the minority.
        I have also seen the good, bad, and the very ugly, over the years too. This has always saddened me for many reasons and conflicted with my own personal values.

        I believe and yes this will be controversial, a provider should have a 12 month monitoring period and reviews before being approved by the ESFA to prevent many of these issues. Likewise, when applying for new sectors, to show they can deliver to EIF standard.
        We all have development needs, that is what SAR, QIP and so on are for, however there are still many in this business purely for the money.
        In my time as a trainer, I owned my caseload and still delight where I can, engaging with T&L. People are my passion. Resiliance and delivering with pace are crucial.
        I recently created a rockface activity, for a nameless provider, to empower the team of trainers to take ownership of their own caseloads around cost, and quality implications to the learner from withdrawals and unfunded. This provider would rather deliver a poor learner journey than upskill their workforce.
        Another nameless provider, who is drawing funding for a sector they are unable to deliver.
        Another nameless operations director who overlooked appalling performance of a middle manager because the mm rubbed her neck for her and made her coffee when she was stressed.
        It is not rocket science to deliver an apprenticeship correctly and if a provider meets compliance, I agree, they should have nothing to worry about.
        I for one will always do the right thing with integrity.

  2. Jane Beveridge

    I have worked across apprenticeships for over a decade. I am delighted to see this firmer approach applied.
    In my opinion this 4 week clawback is another positive move. In addition to the ESFA trip advisor, smiley face feedback above, and the IFA, raising the standard for apprenticeships, recently published.https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/raising-the-standard-best-practice-guidance/

    I also raise the question that funding for standards should be taken away from providers who have not upskilled their workforce, their quality and delivery teams, systems and resources, in the transition from frameworks. Hence the poor quality learner journey.

    The apprenticeship model should have the learner at the heart, always! No learner should go beyond 4 weeks without contact unless there is a very, very, good reason.
    Where in this world is there a payment for doing nothing? Clawback has always been around in apprenticeships.

    There are many good providers and trainers in this industry but there is a large percentage of poor ones. These tighter measures are well over due.
    I for one, fully support this continuous improvement. It could well be the answer to overhaul the apprenticeship programme.
    There are providers out there who have still not transitioned from frameworks to standards as they do not know how and equally as many IQAs applying framework approaches to subject areas of the standard qualifications.
    OTJ is still endloaded, challenging for many, and misunderstood. This has significant negative impact on the learner journey.
    The main reason, learners withdraw from apprenticeships (IFA guide above) is because the delivery of their apprenticeship is poor.
    If we cannot deliver safe, engaging, progressive, T&L sessions to our learners, then we should not be drawing funding to say we are.

    Ofsted are out in force again. If parts of the industry disagree with these improvements, It is time to review your entire provision.