There are now more than 50 apprenticeship training agencies (ATAs) — but confusion surrounds how many apprentices each one is working with.
A dozen organisations were awarded a share of £7m by the National Apprenticeship Service to establish the first ATAs through a pilot scheme in 2009, as part of a drive to encourage more small employers to engage with the apprenticeship programme.
That figure has increased dramatically, climbing to 50 in January, and it now stands at 52.
ATAs, which are based on an Australian model, act as an apprentice’s employer and is able to place them at a number of smaller firms over the course of a single training programme.
They are seen as a key means of helping the government hit its target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, as it will need far more small- and medium-sized enterprises to get involved to drive up starts.
But a Freedom of Information request sent by FE Week to the Skills Funding Agency appears to have poured cold water on the government’s ambitions — as it indicated that there were just 1,370 apprenticeships starts involving ATAs in 2014/15.
Even worse, apprenticeship starts with ATAs have remained effectively stagnant for two years, with 1,340 starts in 2013/14 and 1,360 in 2012/13.
However, Jeremy Hempstead (pictured), chief executive of the Confederation of Apprenticeship Training Agencies (CoATA), disputed the figures, telling FE Week that he believes “the numbers are not accurate”.
This is “a problem that has been brought to the SFA’s attention and they have said they are investigating”, he added.
He said: “The London Apprenticeship Company alone in the year to July 2015 had 528 starts. It is CoATA’s opinion that if replicated over 40 ATAs, at an average of 400 starts per ATA, this would represent 16,000 ATA employed apprentice starts — a significant discrepancy from the SFA’s 1,370.”
FE Week went back to the SFA to ask them if it was investigating the figures, as suggested by Mr Hempstead, but the response failed to clear up the confusion.
A spokesperson for the SFA insisted that the figures were accurate, and declined to comment on whether there would be any further investigation.
He said: “The recent response to your FoI request is an accurate report of the data that we collect. It is submitted by our colleges and training providers via their ILR returns about the training delivered to ATA organisations’ apprentices.”
The spokesperson said it was the responsibility of “our colleges and training providers to ensure that the ILR learner record code is completed correctly”.
But she conceded that the SFA was “aware of some discrepancies between the data submitted on ATA apprentices via the ILR and the data held by ATAs”.
She said: “This would not affect SFA funding claims so would not constitute a breach in our contract. We will continue to work with the SFA’s provider network to ensure the ILR learner record is coded correctly to identify apprentices that are employed by an ATA.”
There is also uncertainty over the future of ATAs from April 2017, with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.
Government guidance published in April said: “We know that some employers will want to use the funds in their digital account to pay for training of apprentices employed by an ATA.
“We will make an assessment of the pros and cons of any approach before providing further information in June.”