Don’t let private training providers ‘steal your lunch’, Skills Minister Nick Boles tells college leaders

Skills Minister Nick Boles has told Association of Colleges (AoC) conference delegates to stop letting private providers “nick your lunch”.

He was critical of colleges for failing to secure more government apprenticeships cash and said independent learning providers (ILPs) were much better at securing the funding, during a keynote speech at the ICC Birmingham this morning.

Mr Boles told delegates: “As your friend, I have to ask you this, why on earth are you letting these guys [ILPs] nick your lunch?”

He challenged colleges to go from delivering a third of all apprenticeships to two-thirds.

It comes after FE Week revealed startlingly low levels of college take-up on apprenticeship delivery at many colleges.

Skills Funding Agency figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that colleges, on average, have 27 per cent of their 2015/16 Adult Skills Budget allocated to apprenticeships, 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.

Mr Boles also told delegates this morning that apprenticeships funding was rising while other funding streams available to colleges was being cut.

“Total government spending on apprenticeships grew by £400m, or nearly 30 per cent, between 2009/200 and 2015/16,” he said.

“In 2009/10 the taxpayer was investing every year £1.1m in apprenticeship training but in 2015/16 it will be £1.5bn.”

“We will be spending a great deal more on apprenticeship training in 2019/20,” he added.

“We need to help you take advantage of that funding stream. I want to help you give ILPs a very good run for their money and secure a much larger share of that funding.”

Mr Boles added that even if the government hit its 3m apprenticeships target by 2020 “we will still have fewer apprentices per 1,000 of population than almost any of our European competitors and if it works for them and makes them productive I don’t think we should shrink from it”.

“The new apprenticeship levy will provide substantial additional resources to fund training,” he added.

It comes as Mr Boles also told delegates in his speech that he could not give them any insights into the conclusions of the upcoming spending review.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said afterwards that he had “played a remarkably straight bat”, during his conference speech, over FE funding.

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  1. Very complimentary or demeaning to the achievements of Independent Learning Providers (ILP’s) dependent on your point of view, it could appear to some that ILP success does not carry favour with the Mr Boles. Stating that he is “the colleges friend” and setting them the challenge to do better than ILP’s could be interpreted that conversely he is not the friend of ILP’s who deliver 2/3 of all quality apprenticeships the Government. I personally don’t think that this is the case, he loves ILP’S really, politics eh!
    I think that Mr Boles could have been less divisive in his speech and been more supportive of the fantastic job ILP’s actually do, and the quality of apprenticeships they deliver in most cases. In particular ILP’s such as GTA’s (Group Training Associations), where quality was highlighted as particularly good in the recent OFSTED report on the quality of provision in apprenticeship delivery.
    No mention from Mr Boles either regarding the quality aspect of apprenticeships, just the volume, worrying!
    I wonder what his speech would have been like if it was at the AELP conference.
    Onward and upward eh.

    • Mick Fletcher

      I agree that its politics not policy. Boles’ aim is to make it appear that colleges are to blame for the financial mess that government policy has created in FE; and he’s preparing his excuses for the day when government misses its target on apprenticeship numbers. The implication that ILPs delivering lots of apprenticeships is unwelcome is collateral damage. He doesn’t care either way.

    • Steve Lawrence

      Well what a very short sighted thing to say and indeed the AELP it would be why are you letting Colleges nick your breakfast. Sorry this industry is one where we all have to work together for the common good.

  2. Graham Hoyle OBE

    However mischievous the Minister might have been, setting provider against provider is not the future for FE. Colleges and ITPs need to play to their individual strengths in an increasingly collaborative and complementary manner. FE must determine its role and the areas in which it is, or should become strong. Some providers building their A-level delivery, others basic needs, others employer-facing services (Apprenticeships, traineeships etc)., others HE. Few colleges have starred in all these. ITPs have never tried. That’s why they are so successful in Apprenticeship delivery.
    No Mr Boles, don’t encourage colleges to take on the ITPs , encourage them to grow where they are strong and work alongside ITPs who are building on their strengths.

  3. The government’s obsession with apprenticeships above all other forms of adult and vocational learning appears to me to be based more on delivering an ambitious political promise than what is in the best interests of the learners and the country. If you add the tunnel vision about apprenticeships to cuts in core adult provision, we are headed to a situation where a large portion of the adult workforce (especially those aged over 23 who may need a second chance for whatever reason) will be underskilled. The problem is compounded by a conflation of “low value skills” with “low level skills” leading to contempt for Level 2 education which is in fact necessary to provide a base for the higher level technical skills which the government would like to see. Glamorous high level (4 and 5) technical skills will not be achieved across the boasrd without sufficent attention to less glamorous level 2 provision as a base for progression, and not just in Maths and English. Apprenticeships are not the answer to every question that can be asked about vocational education and adult learning and there is a real danger that their political fixation will create a large ghetto of underskilled people for the future.

  4. Never mind the quality, feel the width. Forget the data, has anyone interviewed the learner or the employer about what their local college or ILP actually delivers. Ask how up to date the resources, including the staff or method of delivery. How long each module takes and why. With some really brilliant exceptions I still find that the ILPs specialise far more than colleges, working with employers to meet their requirements and ensuring that their ’employee’ isn’t wasting their time.
    ILPs aren’t ‘nicking anyone’s lunch’ they are in the main, just doing a better job and able to buy their own lunch thank you.

  5. The vast majority of providers and colleges work together. The idea that one party or other is thieving off others is the politics of the gutter. We subcontract to colleges, colleges subcontract to ILPs and we all work hard to provide quality apprenticeships. This comment is not only unhelpful, it paints a picture of a sector that is in someway cutthroat and fractious when the very opposite is the case. Mr Boles, please think before you speak.