The government is creating a group of “expert” apprenticeship providers in a new pilot programme unveiled today.
Those selected for this “mark of excellence” will be given “more access” to Department for Education systems in a bid to reduce the time and resource providers commit to coaching non-levy paying employers through the apprenticeship system.
But entry criteria is strict and eliminates many of the largest apprenticeship providers from participating.
The DfE is searching for a maximum of 15 providers to join the 12-month pilot, comprising seven independent training providers, five FE colleges and three higher education providers to “be reflective of current market share”.
To be considered providers must be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, have an apprenticeship achievement rate of at least 51 per cent in 2021/22 as well as a 4-star employer feedback rating.
Early FE Week analysis suggests that of the 1,058 providers on the achievement rate table, just over half (53 per cent) meet the achievement rate and Ofsted criteria.
Big hitters such as the likes of Lifetime Training and HIT Training will already be excluded due to the achievement rates threshold, while other providers like BPP Professional won’t be able to apply due to holding a 3-star employer feedback rating.
Budding apprenticeship ambassadors must also be in “good” financial health and have been delivering apprenticeships for at least five years for FE colleges and ITPs.
Providers will need to already deliver at least 30 per cent, and a minimum of 50 annual starts, of its overall apprenticeships provision to non-levy paying employers.
Applicants must be prime contract holders and must not been sanctioned by the DfE following an audit or investigation in the past five years.
‘Priority engagement’ with officials and special access to DfE systems
The pilot programme is planned to start from October 31 this year. DfE needs responses by September 27 and applicants will be told if they are successful or not from October 16.
The guidance document stressed that the pilot will not include any further funding, but successful providers could see a growth in starts and cost efficiencies from being involved.
The aim of the programme is to make it easier for providers to work with small and medium-sized employers by reducing the time and resource providers need to commit to coaching SMEs through the digital apprenticeship system.
Chosen providers will be able to “use your expert status as a mark of excellence and a marketing tool,” DfE said.
This status will give providers special “flexibilities and permissions” in the apprenticeship service, which includes accessing the system on behalf of SMEs.
Providers will also get “priority engagement opportunities” with DfE officials through workshops and roundtables.
The DfE said the scheme will give “expert” providers the opportunity to “identify and realise operational cost and resource savings”.
The guidance outlines that providers’ expert status will be revoked if they receive any downgrades in Ofsted ratings, the emergence of a safeguarding issue, the termination of an apprenticeship contract, or if they become the subject of a DfE investigation.