The full transition onto the digital apprenticeship system has been delayed by four months, the Education and Skills Funding Agency announced today.

Officials had planned to end provider funding allocations being used to train apprentices with small non-levy paying businesses by 31 October, with all starts to be managed through the online service from 1 November.

But “in light of the challenges being faced by providers and employers as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic” the transition period has been extended to 1 April 2021, the agency said in an update today.

“We are extending the transition period onto the service – funds available for new starts on non-levy procured contracts can now be used until 31 March 2021,” they added.

“We remain committed to giving smaller employers greater control over their apprenticeship choices by moving towards a system in which employers select an apprenticeship standard, choose their training provider and secure access to funding for all new apprenticeships through the apprenticeship service.

“As originally planned, this means, over time, more employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy will begin to access apprenticeship training via the apprenticeship service, as well as through a provider with an existing government contract (now extended until 31 March 2021).

“Contract variations will be issued in the summer to support the changes and performance management rules will be confirmed shortly through the usual routes.”

Only larger employers with an annual pay bill of over £3 million who pay the apprenticeship levy can draw down funding for an unlimited number of starts from the online service.

Small employers were originally expected to have access to the service in April 2019. Their transition onto the system began in January but non-levy paying businesses have been capped initially and can only make reservations for up to three apprenticeship starts.

Today’s announcement comes amid a £10 million project to “simplify” the digital service, which is currently being tendered for by the ESFA.

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