Halfon threatens low achieving apprenticeship providers

Minister warns of growth limitations and market exits for providers showing 'insufficient improvement'

Minister warns of growth limitations and market exits for providers showing 'insufficient improvement'

21 Mar 2024, 11:26

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Apprenticeship providers that have persistently low achievement rates face “limitations on growth” and removal from the training market, the skills minister has warned.

Individual apprenticeship standards with high drop out rates are also in line for the chop while officials eye reforms to the end-point assessment market.

Robert Halfon wrote to the sector this morning after the achievement rate for apprenticeship standards rose by 2.9 percentage points to 54.3 per cent in 2022/23.

He told providers that the government “remains committed” to an ambition of a 67 per cent achievement rate by the end of the 2024/25 academic year, and he was “pleased things are moving in the right direction”.

However, the minister revealed plans to use “contractual measures” to crack down on providers that are showing “insufficient improvement”, particularly those with high drop out rates.

The overall retention rate on standards grew by 3.1 percentage points to 55.9 per cent in 2022/23, which means that just less than half, 44 per cent, of all apprentices dropped out before completing their end-point assessment last year.

The government currently uses its apprenticeship accountability framework to assess provider performance against a range of 10 measures, including achievement and retention rates.

Halfon said that while the government will “continue to consider factors outside of providers’ control, where these can be evidenced”, he warned of tougher action to come.

“We will also use contractual measures including potential limitations on growth, stopping delivery of standards with low apprenticeship achievement rates and removal from the market where this is necessary to protect apprentices and employers and ensure they have access to high quality training,” his letter read.

The accountability framework states that providers will be classed as “at risk” if they have an overall achievement rate under 50 per cent. 

FE Week analysis of 2022/23 data shows that 282 out of the 1,071 providers across the sector are below this benchmark.

Just 279 providers have an achievement rate of 67 per cent or higher.

The Association of Employment Learning Providers told members last week that it is “not expecting wholesale action” and there won’t “quite [be] a return to arbitrary minimum standards” for achievement rates, but the Department for Education is now “leaning a bit more that way”.

Halfon has also tasked the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education with improving or even scrapping standards with persistently high drop out rates.

His letter said: “IfATE will be looking closely at apprenticeship standards that are not producing good outcomes for employers or the economy – especially where they are underused or too many learners are dropping out without completing – and speed up action to either improve them or remove them where it is clear the apprenticeship standard is not working.”

Of the 425 apprenticeship standards, 121 have a retention rate below 50 per cent.

Apprenticeships that attract high volumes but have consistently low achievement rates and high drop outs include both the level 2 and 3 adult care worker standards, the children, young people and families practitioner, the associate project manager, and hospitality team member.

EPA model under review

Halfon also told the sector the government “continually reviews” the assessment process for apprenticeships to make sure it is “proportionate, supports achievement and is fit for the future”, before hinting at change to the independent end-point assessment market.

He said officials will “identify further options to improve the assessment model, making it more efficient for the whole sector” and “ensure that assessment retains its validity and value to employers and apprentices”.

Halfon told the sector he knows “that you are all dedicated to supporting current and future apprentices from every background to achieve the best possible outcomes”, adding that with a “renewed focus on quality, together we can continue to make long-term increases to achievement rates and support economic growth by improving the skills pipeline”.

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  1. What tends to be ignored is the effect of rising achievement on the apprenticeship budget.

    Imagine a world where the Gvt ambition of 67% achievement rate is reached in 2024/25, which it can’t be as most of the withdrawal has already happened, but putting that aside lets assume that the 67% is reached.

    How much more ‘on programme’ funding would that mean providers earn and how much more in 20% completion payments? My guess is that it would cause the budget to be overspent. We know that not all levy receipts make it as far as the apprenticeship budget, but the money will be being used for something (perhaps even used more than once!).

    Looking at things in isolation rarely provides a holistic picture.

  2. Albert Wright

    It is right that money is not wasted on unloved standards and on providers that fail to achieve 50% success rates.
    Regarding “Apprenticeships that attract high volumes but have consistently low achievement rates and high drop outs include both the level 2 and 3 adult care worker standards,….” is worrying, given the high number of vacancies.

    Perhaps employers and employees want to work longer hours, to increase their incomes in a sector know for low pay, rather than spend time studying and training. Or perhaps the content of the standards are not highly valued by employers and employees and / or the EPA (cost and time) is deemed unnecessary to have given the high number of jobs available.