Former minister asks PM why she is ‘shafting’ future of young people with apprenticeship reforms

The former minister for HE has slammed the Prime Minister for “shafting” the future of working class kids in his constituency, after seeing FE Week research into proposed apprenticeship funding cuts.

David Lammy said the impact of potential funding cuts for 16 to 18 year-old apprentices would be “devastating” for young people in deprived areas like his own area of Tottenham, where unemployment rates are already almost double the national average.

He said: “I have one question for the government in response to these cuts: why are you shafting working class kids?”

Mr Lammy added the cuts would “hugely undermine” the government’s target to create 3m apprenticeships by 2020, and “entirely contradict” Theresa May’s promise to boost social mobility.

Exclusive FE Week research from August 19 found that the government’s proposed funding for 16 to 18 year-old apprentices will result in current rates to colleges and training providers being cut by around 30 per cent, rising to over half for those apprentices living in the most deprived areas of central London.

In comparison, the funding for many learners aged 24 and over will go up, particularly those living in affluent areas outside the South East and working for large employers.

The analysis was based on new proposed new ‘upper limit’ funding levels and a £1,000 16 to 18 incentive paid to the provider, for apprenticeship framework starts from May 1, 2017, published by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) on August 12.

As a result of current factors such as additional funding for 16 to 18 apprentices and a ‘disadvantage uplift’ for apprentices living in a deprived area, the highest funding levels at present go to 16 to 18 apprentices living and working in Tottenham.

The cuts to 16 to 18 in deprived areas and rises to adults in wealthy areas come as result of the SFA seeking ‘simplification’. It proposes removing many of the long standing variables within the current funding methodology.

These changes will mean Tottenham and other central London areas will be hit the hardest by a reduction in funding for this age group.

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden echoed the concerns of David Lammy in his own response to FE Week’s research, describing the government’s decision as “a major strategic blunder by the department and its funding agency”.

He said: “If you had designed something deliberately to produce perverse incentives in the apprenticeship programme, you couldn’t have done it more brilliantly.

“There’s clearly been no thought given to the equality implications or indeed the crucial issues in terms of getting more small employers to take on young people in this age range.”

Considering the impact on his own constituency, Mr Marsden added: “For somewhere like Blackpool, where I would love to see many of my smaller employers taking on apprenticeships, this is going to be a huge disincentive.

“I would suggest that they [the government] need urgently to re-examine the impact of this — they should have had proper impact assessment and the minster, Robert Halfon, who probably has had little oversight of this, needs to address the disastrous and presumably unintended consequences of this urgently.”

FE Week contacted the Department for Education (DfE) to enquire whether an Apprenticeships Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) had in fact been carried out.

A spokesperson confirmed that the relevant EIA had been completed, but added the DfE was unable to say when it will be published.

FE Week also spoke with the Association of Colleges (AoC), which appears to be calling for more consultation on the proposed rates.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive for the AoC, said: “The proposals put forward by the SFA relating to the apprenticeship funding suggest that they are trying to simplify a complicated system, but under an impossible timeline.

“Usually when the government is changing a funding formula, it takes its time and works through all the options and we would ask them to do that on this occasion.

“We urge all colleges to get involved with this consultation to ensure their voice is well represented.”

The analysis was also previously shared with Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, who again recommended that providers and their employers respond to the government consultation.

He said: “Feedback suggests that large numbers of providers will withdraw provision altogether because the rates will not be viable not only in terms of basic delivery but for offering a good quality programme for the employer and the apprentice. 

“All the good work in establishing the apprenticeship brand will quickly become undone.”

He added: “The apparent removal of the location element [disadvantage uplift] is particularly alarming – again, hardly helpful for the social mobility agenda.  

“Providers are working very hard for example to encourage employers to take on more apprentices from BME backgrounds who are underrepresented on the programme and they will find it very difficult to maintain this effort if the rates are not revised.”

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