Coupland: ‘Public funding for management apprenticeships is perfectly legitimate’


The new chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has given her backing to scarce levy funding being spent on controversial management qualifications.

Jennifer Coupland also stood up for the employers that the quango represents, warning the Treasury and Department for Education that the £2 billion budget “is not government money, it comes from the levy that was levied directly to support apprenticeships”.

“It’s not government money, it comes from the levy that was levied directly to support apprenticeships”

The levy is paid to the Treasury, which means it is technically public funding, and its use for management qualifications has come under criticism from Ofsted’s chief inspection, Amanda Spielman, who said “we see levy funding subsidising re-packaged graduate schemes and MBAs that just don’t need it”.

The National Audit Office last year reported that these “new types of apprenticeship raise questions about whether public money is being used to pay for training that already existed in other forms”.

“Some levy-paying employers are replacing their professional development programmes – for example, graduate training schemes in accountancy or advanced courses in management – with apprenticeships,” they added.

“In such cases, there is a risk that the additional value of the apprenticeship to the economy may not be proportionate to the amount of government funding.”

And in recent weeks a former adviser to the skills minister, Tom Richmond, claimed £1.2 billion was being wasted on “fake apprenticeships”.

Richmond said: “Employers have used up over £550 million of levy funding on rebadged management training and professional development courses for more experienced employees.”

But speaking to FE Week, Coupland said using public funding on management apprenticeships is “a perfectly legitimate use”.

“Yeah, I absolutely think that is right [to use public funding for management apprenticeships]. Most organisations you’ll find people get promoted out of being good at a particular role, and then they find themselves leading a team of people which is a completely different job to the one that may have got them promoted to that role in the first instance.

“So those people will need to have opportunities to gain significant and substantial skills in that leadership and management role,” she said.

FE Week was the first to report on the rapid rise of state-subsidised management courses, even before the introduction of new higher and degree-level standards and the levy-funded apprenticeships in May 2017.

In October 2016, analysis by this newspaper found management frameworks were already the third most popular apprenticeship subject, based on the number of starts.

Three years on, Richmond, in his research, claimed “the most popular ‘apprenticeship’ in the country is now becoming a ‘Team Leader / Supervisor’ – accounting for almost 1 in 10 apprentices”.

“People will need to have opportunities to gain significant and substantial skills in that leadership and management role”

And the previous skills minister, Anne Milton, told FE Week last March: “What sticks in people’s throats is people on £100,000 a year and the state subsidising their MBA.

“There is no easy answer. You put more money in the pot, or you restrict what you are doing. Those are the choices.”

Having left a civil service post at the Department for Education, Coupland was using her first outing with the media to call on the government to invest an extra £750 million in apprenticeships for small employers.

The National Audit Office had last year reported that the £2 billion per year apprenticeship budget is running dry. Employers are increasingly choosing higher level and higher cost qualifications, such as in management, for existing employees.

But Coupland said there was no cause for concern.

“On management and leadership apprenticeships I think we’ve got a significant productivity gap with our competitor nations – and about 20 per cent of that productivity gap is made up of a lack of skills,” she said.

“On management and leadership apprenticeships I think we’ve got a significant productivity gap”

“There is quite a lot of evidence to show there is a significant lack of skills in our leadership and management tier within organisations within this country. So if we are going to plug that, one element has got to be looking at that leadership.”

Asked whether an extra £750 million would be enough to fund everything employers wanted, Coupland would not Coupland: ‘Public funding for management apprenticeships is perfectly legitimate’ be drawn on what the DfE permanent secretary referred to as the potential for “tough choices”.

“We’ll work within the policy parameters that we are set”, she said.

“At the moment we are looking at an all age, all level programme and as we look at each apprenticeship standard, standard by standard, we are looking at how we settle appropriate funding cap for those standards.”

Coupland went on to say that the IfATE needs to “make sure that we are generating as much value out of the programme as possible, in order to generate as many apprenticeships with as many organisations as we can.

“So we are looking across the suite, but I think at the heart of it, we do want the apprenticeship programme to reflect the needs of the economy – and for me that means having apprenticeships at level 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and so forth.”

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  1. Totally agree with Ms Coupland who is making a good start in her new role. There is a large, previously unmet need for supervisory and management training. They are not dirty words as Tom Richmond would have you believe. However, the key point not addressed by any of the comments, is the quality of that training. If I am on a level 5 qualification, I think I should be entitled to have someone delivering it who is qualified above level 3? Also the initial advice and guidance given to me should not be aimed at a recruiter getting me to hit their target by saying that it will involve very little work so that they can draw down a four-figure fee. Too many providers take on apprentices with low levels of English that will seriously impede their progress, or who are in a current job where the apprenticeship is not the right one for them to get the necessary experience and employer support. In such cases they are being set up to fail. However, done well, such apprenticeships will raise standards and make British companies more efficient and competitive. A level 5 or higher qualification cannot be taken by everybody, but it should require a substantial amount of work by the apprentice, support from their employer together with their knowledgeable ‘trainer’.

  2. Totally disagree

    Quite rightly more and more corporations and businesses are refusing to accept MBAs or master qualifications as they are over priced and add little in terms of learning /experience or difference to a business.

    Most MBA learnings are worthless in business and there is no independent objective evidence they make any difference to productivity or efficiency and they certainly should not be funded by public money.

    If you want to make British companies more efficient and competitive slash the management salaries, downsize the leadership who contribute nothing to the business.

    Take Pearson for example manager over staffed at 45% of the business – manager and above to president. Reducing that to 15% and slashing UK salaries in that business and changing their roles so they role up their sleeves and actually do individual work would make them more efficient and productive. It is the bad implementation of bad management decision, ideas, plans and systems with far too many managers in Pearson that has caused their problems, too many chiefs not wanting to be accountable and not wanting to be in the firing line for redundancy which is the issue there.

    Adding more managers would make any business even less efficient and competitive. In no way should public money be used to subsided and create more managers.