Colleges deliver just one in five apprenticeships last year, meaning virtually no progress has been made in the 18 months since they were told to get more involved by the minister at the time.

This figure, based on FE Week analysis of data obtained by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers through a freedom of information request, exposes widespread failure to act on former skills minister Nick Boles’ (pictured above) 2015 plea to Association of Colleges’ conference delegates to stop letting independent providers “nick your lunch”.

The data, from the Department for Education, shows that 74 per cent of all apprenticeship starts, or 376,940 of 510,070 made in 2015/16, were with independent training providers.

There were just 21 per cent (104,690) for FE colleges – one percentage point up from 2014/15.

The remaining 28,440 were delivered by local authorities, universities, sixth form and specialist colleges.

Put another way, for every 20 apprentices, 15 were trained by ITPs, four at colleges and one elsewhere.

David Hughes, the AoC’s chief executive brushed aside the lack of college progress, saying: “The next government should help employers of all sizes use apprenticeships, as part of their workforce development and ensure all apprentices get a great experience. Who delivers on the number of apprenticeships is less important.”

AELP boss Mark Dawe argued that this low percentage was “no surprise”, and insisted the government should not to try and fix the market to benefit colleges.

“With the information available including Ofsted judgements, employers are perfectly capable of choosing a training provider, college or another type of provider that will be responsive to their needs,” he said. “Let them get on with it.”

The FoI data showed colleges had subcontracted around 40 per cent (64,930) of their apprenticeships last academic year.

Nearly one in three overall apprenticeships, or 29 per cent (147,320), were subcontracted. 

FE Week invited a number of colleges that subcontract the majority of their provision to explain why they are not delivering the provision themselves.

Monica Box, the interim principal of Lambeth College, which only delivered 12 per cent of its 950 starts directly last year, said: “The college is working to increase the internal delivery of apprenticeships from 2017/18.

“This will take the form of a phased increase over three years and will be supported by staff development and quality improvement plans, that ensure the transition generates high-quality delivery.”

A spokesperson for Newham College, which delivered 13 per cent of its 1,290 starts directly, said it took “a successful approach some years ago, to subcontract apprenticeship provision, maximising its reach into local communities.

“The college group’s apprenticeship capacity has increased, and it is now focusing on delivering more apprenticeships directly.

“The amount of partnership delivery has reduced and the planned direct delivery for the college group in 2017/18 is 40 per cent.”

Mike Hopkins, the interim principal of Bournville College, which delivered 26 per cent of its 810 starts directly, conceded that it “has delivered a large proportion of its apprenticeship provision through subcontracting”.

“But this will be changing as part of the merger with South and City College Birmingham, where there are no subcontracting arrangements,” he added.

“As a merged college, we will continue to be committed to delivering high quality apprenticeship provision and we look forward to growing this area.”

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