FE Commissioner sets apprenticeships and bootcamps targets for colleges

Comes amid government concerns that colleges' share of both markets is too low

Comes amid government concerns that colleges' share of both markets is too low

14 Nov 2023, 17:05

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The FE Commissioner has tasked colleges with increasing their share of apprenticeships and skills bootcamps.

Shelagh Legrave told today’s Association of Colleges she wants to support colleges to grow their market share in apprenticeships delivery by “at least 10 per cent”. Colleges currently deliver less than a fifth of apprenticeship starts annually despite repeated ministers urging them to stop letting private providers “nick your lunch” in this space since 2015.

The FE Commissioner also said she wants to support colleges to grow their market share of skills bootcamps delivery by increasing the number of colleges involved by “a minimum of 25 per cent”. It comes after FE Week revealed last week that over two-thirds of colleges currently do not deliver the flagship government scheme.

The targets from Legrave, who is now two years in post having previously been the principal of the Chichester College Group, came hours after skills minister Robert Halfon also urged colleges to step up in the skills bootcamps space.

Around £600 million has been earmarked to fund the programmes, designed to quickly get people into employment in skills shortage areas, both nationally and in mayoral combined authorities between 2020 and 2025. There were over 16,000 bootcamps starts in 2021-22, which rose to over 40,000 in 2022-23.

FE Week reported last week that the complex funding models, administrative burdens, and a risk-averse attitude have kept most colleges away from delivering the scheme.

Halfon said today: “I would encourage all colleges here today to apply for skills bootcamp funding and embrace this unique entry point for adult learners.”

Other key performance objectives set by Legrave included reducing the time colleges spent in intervention by 50 per cent, and for 75 per cent of colleges to have participated in some form of “active support” that her team offers.

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3 Comments

  1. Stating that market share is too low. What is the right share? Why is a certain share the right share? We’ll support you to get 10% more… by when?

    Surely the most important thing is the best providers are operating, regardless of provider type.

    I’m working on the assumption that the DfE is very concerned over financial instability in the provider base because of chronic underfunding.

  2. Reading this made my heart sink. It completely reinforced my view that we are on a race to the bottom rather than seeking to address the barriers and challenges that restrict the growth of these programmes.

    For our FES sector to be effective, we need to work in partnership to meet the needs of employers and learners alike and certainly not pit one provider sector against the other. We also need to recognise that the system will only work if it is balanced and inclusive. By that I mean we recognise that FE and ILPs bring lots of expertise and different methods to the table and that there is room for both to grow in harmony rather than at the expense of one another and grow numbers of employers and learners participating in Apprenticeships, in particular, and Bootcamps. I often hear the phrase “inclusive growth” used in policy circles – we need to embrace this in Further Education and Skills and recognise that we need both FE an ILPs to be actively involved and celebrate their achievements.

    I am not usually disposed to quote song lyrics when dealing with a serious topic such as this but i am minded of Shirley Bassey’s line – that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating! It’s probably tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping paper in that we will move on and forget it but, for me, it reveals a complete lack of understanding of the system in which FE Colleges and ILPs operate at a senior level.

    Every so often, politicians and officials trot out the line that Colleges should deliver more Apprenticeships, get involved in the latest Further Education and Skills whim (in this case Bootcamps) and generate more revenue from other sources. In a rather vulgar way, they point out that ITPs are cornering the market and suggest they are eating Colleges’ lunch. i think many in the FE and ILP sectors will find this distasteful.

    In my experience, in the main, Colleges deliver Apprenticeships well and in reasonable numbers. Often, they provide a bed rock of Apprenticeship volumes in any given area and deliver in vital sectors. There are many excellent College Apprenticeship providers out there doing an excellent job.

    I suspect the reason why Colleges do not deliver more Apprenticeships, or get more actively involved in programmes such as Bootcamps, is because they simply don’t feel comfortable doing so. There are 3 or 4 issues in play; balance and risk; Apprenticeships (and probably Bootcamps) are administration and compliance heavy so why in these difficult times would anybody increase the risk and admin burden; Colleges operate in the main at a local level responding to the needs of local businesses, especially smaller and medium sized enterprises (working with SMEs and businesses with small numbers of local opportunities), meaning that they cannot always work at a national level and achieve the necessary volumes to offer economies of scale and achieve greater efficiency; and; Apprenticeships remain poorly funded and the funding, in the case of many Standards, simply does not make delivery viable. Lastly, do they , like all others parts of the FES sector, have sufficient capacity ie staff and facilities, to participate and grow these programmes without impacting on their core programmes?

    ILPs provide a vital role in the FES market place. Nobody can argue that they don’t as they deliver circa 65% of Apprenticeship volumes and the vast majority of Bootcamp provision. The reasons for this include; many have a specific sectoral focus and are recognised experts in their field, others operate across a national footprint and can achieve economies of scale (certainly the case for national Bootcamp providers) and many are small, nimble and agile. There is also the other elephant in the room, namely that ILPs are being squeezed out of other mainstream funding such as Traineeships so their reliance upon, and determination to maximise revenues from, Apprenticeships and Bootcamps is hardly surprising.

    If we want to achieve greater levels of participation on Apprenticeships and Bootcamps, grow those programmes and increase FE involvement (maybe we should focus on growth rather than market share) we need firstly to invest more funding in Standards to reflect rising costs and make the programmes more financially viable and attractive to deliver, invest more in facilities and de-risk participation by streamlining (reducing that is!) current levels of bureaucracy. If we don’t embrace this and make the necessary levels of investment we will struggle to realise any growth potential. The programmes will simply stagnate

    If, however, the politicians and officials remain focused on simply growing FE market share, rather than growing the programme as a whole the simplest course of action is to do nothing, change nothing and let the market drive events. On current trajectories ie ever decreasing Apprenticeship starts, ILP business failures (as a result of financial challenges and adverse inspection outcomes) and ILPs opting to exit the market because Apprenticeships are not financially viable we will simply see a natural level of reduction and rebalancing of market share as ILPs exit the market resulting in a greater proportion of starts by the FE sector.

    • Very well said Ian. As the CEO of a small specialist ITP, I think your comments are a very accurate reflection of the current challenges faced by both ITPs and colleges. We just need politicians and civil servants to accept/admit the reality of those challenges.