FE minister writes to apprenticeship providers about COVID-19 response



Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan has today written to independent providers and other non-college stakeholders in an effort to address their concerns following the coronavirus outbreak.

Read the letter in full below.

 

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to write to you and thank you for all of your hard work and continued commitment during what I know is a very difficult time.

We are facing an unprecedented challenge and I recognise that as teachers and leaders working to provide education, training, and assessment and to support your learners, you are on the frontline of our national effort.

UK COVID-19 response 

I appreciate that the changes announced by the Secretary of State last Wednesday, to education and training delivery from 23 March, will have a huge impact on you as leaders, as well as your staff members and learners.

Education, training and assessment providers who operate as businesses or charities are able to access the Government’s package of measures to support businesses to withstand the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Details of this support are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses. We are working closely with HM Treasury to monitor how the support packages are benefitting organisations and to consider any further action which may be required.

I have already heard hugely impressive stories on how providers across the country are reacting – including using online resources to continue to deliver education for your learners, offering support for the community in your areas and establishing crucial communications channels with learners, parents and employers. These illustrate how you are pulling together with ingenuity at this time and typify the spirit that runs through our brilliant further education sector. I’d like to thank you for all the work you have put in so far and for all that is surely to come in the coming weeks.

Funding

I understand that, alongside your priority to deliver learning and care for your students, the situation we are in carries financial implications for many institutions. I am aware of some of the issues you are facing, including those raised by sector representative organisations including the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and HOLEX, and we are working hard to mitigate this impact as much as we can. The Chancellor has announced a series of wider measures to support employers and employees, recognising the significant impacts caused by Covid-19.

For grant funded providers, I can confirm that the ESFA will continue to make scheduled 16-19 and AEB monthly payments for the remainder of the year. Your allocations for 2020/21 will have been confirmed by the end of March, and payments will be made as scheduled. I hope this provides you with the funding certainty you require as you seek to address the impact of responding to Covid-19.  For other funding streams, we will be making decisions on where existing rules and models may need to be modified in relation to any planned reconciliation and future year allocations.

We have today published more detailed operational guidance for FE providers here www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-further-education-provision and will continue to add to this to make sure providers have the latest information.

Apprenticeships

In this difficult time, I know that providers and employers are doing their best for their workforce. I want to support that by ensuring that wherever possible apprentices can continue and complete their apprenticeship, despite any break they need to take as a result of COVID-19. I, through the ESFA, am committed to working with training providers, end-point assessment organisations and external quality assurance organisations to mitigate the impacts of this disruption and maintain the integrity of apprenticeships.  I am hoping that together, with the expertise, support and commitment that you continually demonstrate, we can support apprentices and their employers through these extraordinary and difficult times.

Today we are publishing our apprenticeship response to COVID-19 – www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-apprenticeship-programme-response. This document sets out how we are responding to the impact of COVID-19, as part of our cross-Government efforts.  We are implementing new measures to make it easier for apprenticeships to continue and complete in a different way if they need to or to break and resume an apprenticeship later when that becomes possible. The document explains the temporary flexibilities that we are introducing to the programme during the pandemic and provides answers to questions related to these changes and other common questions. We will continue updating this guidance in line with new queries and/ or further support measures being introduced.

Alternatives arrangements for exams

You will also be aware that we have taken the difficult decision to cancel all exams this summer. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we know that this will be disappointing for students who have been working hard towards these exams. We have been working closely with the exam boards and qualifications regulator Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements.

There are a very wide range of different vocational and technical qualifications as well as other academic qualifications for which students were expecting to sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases, students will already have completed modules or non-exam assessment which could provide evidence to award a grade. We are encouraging these organisations to show the maximum possible flexibility and pragmatism to ensure students are not disadvantaged.

Ofqual is working urgently with the exam boards to set out proposals for how this process will work and will be talking to teachers’ representatives before finalising an approach, to ensure that the approach taken is as fair as possible. For more details please see our guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020. More information will be provided as soon as possible. 

Communication with the sector 

I recognise that the current situation is throwing up queries and concerns that many of you are working through and my officials are already speaking regularly with provider bodies and unions to make sure we are alive to the issues that you are all facing and the questions that you have. I am also in contact with representatives of the sector on the impact of Covid-19 and will continue to engage over the coming weeks.     

Accurate information is clearly vital at a time like this, and the latest government guidance is available on GOV.UK, including advice for all education settings and critical worker classifications.

To help maintain the flow of information and ensure we are alive to the issues affecting you all, I would encourage you to keep in touch and raise any queries via your ESFA territorial team or for apprenticeships, via the Apprenticeship Service helpline by telephone on 08000 150 600 or email at helpdesk@manage-apprenticeships.service.gov.uk

We are certainly in an extraordinary situation and I am extremely grateful for the huge amount of work being done across the sector to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 on our staff, students, and institutions.

Yours sincerely,  

Gillian Keegan MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills

 

 

 

 



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7 Comments

  1. Terry Bentley

    This is really unclear on the Adult Education Budget. She mentions AELP and then talks about “grant funded providers” having their AEB paid on profile. Did she mean providers “funded by contract” will be paid on profile too or just grant-funded colleges? This needs clarification.

  2. I would like to see much more detailed guidance for learners who are due to take on-line assessments and exams for short courses/roll-on roll-off provision, components of apprenticeship provision (including mandatory online assessment tests pre-EPA Gateway where they apply). Many of these are not subject to an ‘end-of-year’ exam date but to an ongoing process of agreed test dates with awarding bodies.

  3. steve beaumont

    So having completely missed the impact of the latest guidance, this letter goes on to demonstrate a total lack of knowledge or experience of how apprenticeship training operates. Not forgetting the Colleges uptake on Standards is very low, primarily I suspect because the days of fudging a pass are over.

  4. Phil Hatton

    A national provider is making fantastic arrangements to keep their apprentices engaged in their apprenticeships rather than put them on a break in training [VLE, podcasts, resources sent to apprentice homes, regular online support, target setting and marking of work]. However, the rules for SMEs being able to claim and get 80% of their salary if furloughed, means that they cannot do alternative work [absolutely fine] OR BE ENGAGED IN TRAINING. So government is putting an obstacle in place to both keeping apprentices [most of whom are 16-18 in this case] usefully engaged at home as well as basically stopping the training provider from giving a good service and keeping their staff employed.

    Also, because young apprentices tend to be on the National Minimum Wage, 80% of that will bring them below it [although they will not have to pay travel to work and pay for lunch]. With no income, small employers will not be willing or able to top up the 80% so apprentices will become redundant rather than furloughed. Surely this was not the intention of government? This is likely to dessimate training providers and cast apprentices onto an early scrapheap from which they may not be able to return?

  5. Lindsey Wedgewood

    Surely the idea that training providers can help apprentices find new employment within 12 weeks is rather far fetched. The number of apprenticeship starts are down nationally, thousands of skilled workers are losing their employment – where are these jobs going to come from? I would suggest that the government pay each apprentice the NMW for apprentices for 12 weeks from W/c 16/03, when covid19 started to impact. This could be paid via training providers relatively easily and claimed through the ILR. Let the levy be used for this purpose also, and allow levy to be transferred for this purpose. If we don’t keep apprentices in learning/training- they will become a very sad statistic.
    The notion that SMEs will navigate the complexity of government websites to access funding is unlikely – much more needs to be done to support these employers and apprentices.

    • Phil Hatton

      Spot on comment Lindsey. As training providers will not be able to afford to pay their own staff if furloughing is applied in the way it will be currently to apprentices there will be no one to find these non-existent jobs. Perhaps the AELP should follow AoC’s ‘love our colleges’ and start a campaign

      KEEP OUR APPRENTICES IN TRAINING