• – Apprenticeships account for less than 5 per cent of Adult Skills Budget for some large FE colleges

  • – AoC says colleges ‘see significant role’ in hitting 3m target and should ‘start planning strategic response’


The college sector’s performance on apprenticeships has come under attack after exclusive FE Week analysis uncovered budgets with as little as 2 per cent allocated to the programme at the heart of the government’s economic strategy.

Skills Funding Agency figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed startlingly low levels of apprenticeship delivery at many colleges — and particularly in London.

Colleges, on average, have 27 per cent of their 2015/16 Adult Skills Budget (ASB) allocated to apprenticeships, FE Week found, compared with 60 per cent at other providers.

But the college figure varies significantly across the country, with London colleges averaging just 12 per cent.

Ian Cass, managing director of the Forum of Private Business, which represents more than 25,000 small and medium-sized businesses, called the figures “worrying”, adding that “it suggests that there is a bias against apprenticeships”.

Given the “very real need” for apprenticeships, said Mr Cass, “we would argue that FE colleges are failing in their duty of care to their students if they do not give them the skills needed to get work in the real world”.

Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager for the Association of Colleges (AoC), said colleges had “always been about more than apprenticeships” and were “working hard” to respond to changes in government policy.

However, nationally, 11 colleges (see table below) have set aside less than 5 per cent of their ASB on apprenticeships. Among those with the lowest set out for apprenticeships was City and Islington College, where just 2 per cent (£202,787) of its £9,733,513 ASB will be spent on apprentices.

The college declined to comment, but ministers will be unimpressed by the figures with the government pushing to hit its 3m apprenticeships target for this Parliament.

Indeed, the Department for Education is thought to be looking at ways to get more 16-year-old vocational learners onto one-year courses and then into apprenticeships. And just days ago, Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted “either apprenticeships or universities for almost everybody”.

Meanwhile, funding for the programme is expected to be protected in the Comprehensive Spending Review this month, as it has from other funding cuts this year, leaving the remainder of the ASB on the chopping block.

There are, according to the information supplied to FE Week, 25 general FE colleges whose 19+ apprenticeship allocation represents less than 10 per cent of their 2015/16 ASB allocation.

Ten of these, six of which are in London, have a combined 16 to 18 and 19+ apprenticeship allocation of less than £500,000 for 2015/16.

Ms Frith said: “Colleges take their roles very seriously and are working very hard to keep up with and respond to the significant changes that are being made at national policy level around apprenticeships, devolution and funding.

“Colleges have always been about more than apprenticeships and we know that colleges deliver a higher percentage of the Stem subjects and higher level apprenticeships than other providers.

“A college’s response to apprenticeship reform has to be made within the context of the full mix of the education and training they provide and so it is not surprising to see no direct results as yet.

“The precise detail of some of the more significant elements of the reform is not yet known, so colleges should not be expected to be implementing plans. However, colleges should start planning their strategic response to the reforms that impact on their provision, including apprenticeships.

“While colleges did not set the target of 3m apprenticeship starts, they do see a significant role for themselves in supporting its achievement, but they must balance this against the needs of their local business communities and students.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Colleges play an important role in the delivery of apprenticeships and we continue to work with them to reach our ambition of 3m apprenticeships by 2020.”



Editor’s comment

Apprenticeships or bust

It is widely feared the Adult Skills Budget (ASB), which includes apprenticeships, will be slashed by at least 40 per cent in the upcoming budget.

Apprenticeships will be protected, so on current allocations it would require a 68 per cent cut to the non-apprenticeship delivery to find the 40 per cent saving.

Let me rephrase that. Colleges doing little or no apprenticeships would see their ASB cut by a whopping 68 per cent.

These colleges must surely quickly expand their provision and take advantage of the new bi-annual Skills Funding Agency apprenticeship growth requests?

Time will tell if the apprenticeship reforms help, but it may also be running out as the cuts and area reviews close in.

Act now colleges, before it’s too late.

Chris Henwood


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  1. A. P. Prentice

    Just out of interest (FE Week) what do the same figures show for Local Authorities? Based on SFA published info they are in receipt of over £100 million Adult Skills Budget now. Can you tell FE readers how much of this is ringfenced for Apprenticeships? And perhaps you might want to ask HOLEX for a comment as you have the AoC?

  2. Subcontractor

    Or is it that Colleges are not in the community as they should be? Funding is not directed to training providers who are on the ground but held with colleges that are clearly not spending the money where they should be.

  3. another training provider

    Maybe some Colleges just aren’t the answer for the delivery of world class apprenticeships. Work-based learning, in my view,fits better with industry-specialist training groups, independent providers and other consortia approaches some of which use Colleges services for delivery of qualifications. Ultimately, it comes down to the focus being on a quality package for the apprentice and employer.
    So, Colleges recognise your strengths and only act now if you can offer a suitable programme. If we can’t achieve 3 million starts without underpinning quality then we shouldn’t as the brand will be undermined.

  4. Yet again this is a one size fits all approach. I have a sub contractor within a volunatry sector hub. Many of the people we serve aren’t anywhere near to taking an apprenticeship and not doubt if there is a slash of 40% it will be across the board without looking at what individual consortiums are actually doing to help people move towards apprenticeships and employment.

  5. Gail Tipper

    Colleges are missing an opportunity to collaborate offering off job blocks and day release on a flexible sensibly priced basis to the private sector ie Functional skills\English and maths, subject matter underpinning knowledge teaching – do what you are good at ie private sector employer engagement and FE teaching and learning! FE could even offer special rates co location for providers in their fantastic premises!!!

  6. Unfortunately, a significant minority still regard apprenticeships as a useful funding stream but devote little or no interest in identifying the benefits of resourcing their own WBL to match the need of employers and learners. Expanding the provision is only part of it, delivery for ‘lots’ is still based on systems created in the eighties, with resources to match.

  7. I think there’s a *lot* of stuff that needs unpacking here.
    Contrary to most government claims there isn’t an infinite, immediate supply of learners and employers clamouring to do apprenticeships, so colleges can’t just snap their fingers and start delivering them, it’s years and years of hard slog to build up a reputation.
    Private Training Providers seem to be doing Quite A Good Job at delivering Apps, so there hasn’t been the historical* need for general FE to do it. General FE has got on with delivering what it does well, classroom-based vocational learning and basic skills.
    I’m fascinated to know how many of the Apps coming through colleges are actually delivered by sub-contractors, I bet it’s quite a few…
    I think my main issue with the article is it’s comparing apples and oranges. A large group of formerly prosperous, well-established orchard owners can’t just rip them up and expect anyone to be interested in their new line of citrus fruits just because it’s fashionable (and, to continue the tortured analogy, what happens when cider becomes popular again in 20 years time and there’s no orchards left?)

    *”since the 90s” kind of historical, not earlier!

  8. The focus has been on a small number of colleges with low % of apprenticeships with no mention of the college’s delivering very well- such as my own with 72% and circa £5.5m and 1,100 employers per annum. We are also in the top 10% of providers for volume of higher apps. We have also several times taken on learners and apprentices who had been left high and dry when ILPs collapsed.