Senior officials joined FE Week editor Shane Chowen on the main stage at the Skills and Education Group’s annual conference this week to debate ‘levelling up the sector’. Here are the highlights:
Double cash bump for care apprenticeships?
Officials are considering boosting adult care apprenticeship funding by more than one band, FE Week understands.
The government launched an exceptional funding band review for 20 apprenticeships under the most pressure from rising costs last year. But the outcome of the process, which has since been stripped down to just 10 standards and was supposed to be wrapped up by May 1, has been beset with delays and is yet to surface.
The hold-up is down to the Treasury, FE Week understands, but sources indicate there could be good news on the horizon for the two adult care apprenticeships that are part of the review and funded at a current rate of £3,000 per apprentice.
Officials have raised the possibility of bumping them up by more than the stated maximum uplift of one funding band and, during this week’s Skills and Education Group conference, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) delivery director Rob Nitsch indicated that this could happen.
Asked by FE Week editor Shane Chowen whether care apprenticeships will move up by more than one funding band, he simply replied “maybe”.
Nitsch added: “Some of the [challenges] are ingrained. There is the issue of pay, completion rates in that sector are woefully low. It’s certainly not at the back of the queue.”
He said the institute was “absolutely supportive” of the funding band review and acutely aware of challenges in the care sector, following a recent FE Week investigation which highlighted the viability of the funding model in care training.
When asked when IfATE would announce the review’s results, Nitsch shirked responsibility for their publication. He said the institute’s role was to make a recommendation on funding bands to the Department for Education, who then report to Treasury.
Colleges can’t staff priority courses
Earlier in the panel session, Shelagh Legrave, the FE commissioner, was pressed on why just three intervention reports were published last year, plus one so far in 2023. Her predecessor Richard Atkins released 20 reports in 2020.
“Legally, if colleges ended up in inadequate financial health, we would have to publish an intervention report,” she said. “So that does suggest that there were fewer colleges in inadequate financial health.”
She added: “The danger of that is that we look as if we’re OK as a sector, when in fact financially we’re not.”
Legrave explained that, in her tour of the country’s colleges, she is seeing the impact of years of financial pressures.
“There is a real danger that the sector will not be able to deliver the reforms that the government is looking for in further education because you can’t find the staff to teach the qualifications. Every college I’ve been to has not been able to honour some qualifications because they can’t find the expertise to teach it.”
Ofsted prepares for new inspection framework
Ofsted’s Paul Joyce, deputy director of FE and skills, revealed that the inspectorate has embarked on a review of the implementation of the education inspection framework (EIF).
“Given the EIF was introduced in 2019, we are embarking on a review in terms of how it has been implemented,” he said. “Is it working in the way it was intended to work? Is there anything we need to do differently? It’s the right debate.”
One area under the spotlight is how Ofsted inspects “large and complex” providers in FE and skills. Joyce reassured delegates that the regulator was not looking at expanding inspection teams for large providers. “There is no more money for inspections,” he said.
“If anything, I’m looking at notice periods and whether some of our larger providers need more notice to be able to get the stakeholders together that you want us to meet with,” he added.
Joyce also said that Ofsted was reviewing its reports as some providers complain they are “quite short, not detailed enough and aren’t unique enough to the provider”.
Elsewhere at the conference, senior Ofsted inspector Julie Ashton said the organisation’s internal data tool – the further education and skill intelligence tool (FESIT) – is finally set to be shared with providers in the autumn despite plans to put it into the public domain two years ago.
“They said that two years ago, but there have been various things happening in the last two years,” she quipped, adding that the regulator was having some technical issues with its release.