The government has ditched its controversial 20 per cent requirement for off-the-job training in apprenticeships and replaced it with a new baseline.
Significant changes to English and maths policy, calculation of prior learning and new eligible costs have also been revealed in draft apprenticeship funding rules for 2022/23.
Published today by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the rules state that from August 1, the minimum volume of off-the-job hours will no longer be linked to total working hours; instead a consistent baseline figure of six hours per week will be introduced, irrespective of the hours worked by the apprentice.
This means that apprentices who work more than 30 hours per week can now spend less than 20 per cent of their week doing off-the-job training.
The 20 per cent off-the-job training rule was introduced following the apprenticeship levy reforms in 2017. Many in the sector have complained that the rule is the single biggest barrier to apprenticeship recruitment, but others view it as a vital part of the apprentices’ development.
The ESFA said the 20 per cent rule means that an apprentice who works longer hours is potentially unfairly impacted, because higher working hours means a higher threshold for eligibility.
Announcing the change to a six-hour per week baseline, the ESFA said: “From 1 August, the minimum volume of hours will no longer be linked to working hours; instead we will have a consistent figure, irrespective of the hours worked by the apprentice. This will be six hours per week (this figure was chosen as it represents 20 per cent of 30 hours, which all part-time apprentices are currently doing). The six hours per week is for calculation purposes only; once calculated the programme can still be delivered flexibly.”
However, the agency said this change “must not dilute the existing requirement – to provide the right level of training to every apprentice”.
The volume of training that is delivered must be guided by the initial assessment of the apprentice and this “may mean that an apprentice trains for more than six hours per week”.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers director of policy Simon Ashworth welcomed the move.
“The approach using actual and individual contracted hours created inequality. This meant that some individuals had to undertake additional training to their peers, purely because of their contracted hours – which don’t always correlate to what training they actually need,” he said.
“Along with being fairer, the proposed baseline approach is simpler to understand. We are glad that the ESFA have listened and acted on these concerns.”
English and maths requirements changed
The ESFA also announced today that people who start a level 2 apprenticeship without level 1 English and maths will no longer need to automatically attempt level 2 English and Maths tests to complete their apprenticeship.
“It will mean that thousands of level 2 apprentices can focus on securing a level 1 English and maths qualification with only those who are really ready to take the level 2 tests attempting them,” the agency said.
Initial assessment added to eligible costs
The ESFA has been reviewing eligible costs associated with apprenticeships for over a year.
The sector is still waiting on the final outcome of the review, but the agency revealed today that initial assessment has been added as an eligible cost.
But there will be changes resit costs when it comes to eligible and ineligible rules. The ESFA will provide full details when it publishes the outcome of the eligible costs review “shortly”.
More formulaic approach to prior learning
Prior learning refers to skills and knowledge gained by learners before they start their apprenticeship, and must be taken into account by providers when negotiating a price with an employer to ensure cash is not being used to teach an apprentice something they already know.
A new formula that must be used to reduce the price that is agreed with the employer, to account for prior learning, has been included in the funding rules.
To reduce the total negotiated price providers must, from August 1, calculate the percentage of prior learning that the learner has, as a percentage of the off-the-job training hours that they would deliver to an apprentice with no relevant prior learning for the same standard.
The ESFA explains: “For example, if the individual’s prior learning accounts for 300 off-the-job training hours and typically, for the same standard, you would deliver 1,000 off-the-job training hours to an individual with no prior learning, this would equate to 30 per cent prior learning.
“Reduce the price by at least 50 per cent of the prior learning percentage, from the maximum funding band (the 50per cent reduction recognises fixed costs). For the example above, where the apprentice has 30 per cent prior learning, this means there must be a reduction in price of at least 15 per cent of the maximum funding band. This reduced price is the maximum that will be paid using apprenticeship funding (e.g., £8,500 for a £10,000 funding band).
“This new maximum funding amount becomes the starting point for further negotiation on price with the employer. Additional discounts could be applied, for example, where the apprentice is part of a large cohort.”
Rule changes will ‘further improve’ apprenticeships
The ESFA said that having reformed the apprenticeships programme over the past five years, it now wants to “make it simpler to use for employers, training providers and apprentices themselves”.
Announcing the rule changes to this effect, skills minister Alex Burghart said: “We now want to focus on making the system as simple and user-friendly as possible, reducing bureaucratic burdens on employers and providers and giving apprentices the best possible experience.”