Senior officials from key agencies in education and training addressed the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ national conference in London this week, and here are the highlights.
The impact on further education of under-funding and the recruitment crisis is becoming more evident, a senior Ofsted director has admitted.
Ofsted’s deputy director for further education & skills, Paul Joyce, told delegates that the watchdog was aware that under-funding in the skills sector was having a negative impact on learners.
When questioned if Ofsted was concerned about the funding crisis in education and demoralised workforce, Joyce said there was “no doubt” funding is an issue in the sector and Ofsted inspectors were “seeing that impact” across the spectrum of its activities.
For example, Joyce said that the watchdog was aware of providers struggling to buy consumables, like construction materials, for use in training.
He added that the recruitment and retention crisis in FE was also filtering through to the quality of provision.
“We’re also seeing issues with workforce, with recruitment … The ability of providers to either retain their staff or to recruit new staff in areas like digital and construction,” he said.
He added that inspectors are starting to examine skills bootcamps, and from the first few reports, he said it was “really pleasing to see some good provision”.
Joyce repeated an earlier announcement that, from September, Ofsted will be increasing the inspection notice period it gives to the largest providers – defined as those with a £10 million plus contract value and operate in three or more government office regions – from up to two days to six days.
That means large providers could get a notification call on a Monday for an inspection the following Tuesday, he explained.
Inspectors will also “be encouraged” to provide more detail about the provider and the provision being inspected in their reports on large providers.
Joyce also revealed during the Q&A that Ofsted is finalising its report into T Levels that “will make an interesting read”. The report is due to be published in the “next few weeks”.
“Inspectors conducted a number of visits primarily to wave one subjects,” he said. “We looked at work placements, the way providers use their capital funding. We looked at the T Level transition programme and just took an early temperature check really on how things are.”
AELP chair demands debate on IfATE ‘role and remit’
The government’s apprenticeships quango’s role in determining apprenticeship funding needs to be revisited, the Association for Education and Learning Providers (AELP) chair has said.
Nichola Hay said there “needs to be a debate on the role and remit of IfATE [the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education] in the future skill system”.
Opening the AELP’s national conference for 2023 this week, Hay said IfATE has had an “ever expanding list” of responsibilities since it rebranded from being the Institute for Apprenticeships in 2019.
“Their expanded remit now encompasses T Levels, level two and level three qualifications along with higher level of technical qualifications,” Hay said.
Instead, IfATE’s role “should be working with employers focusing on content and curriculum”, she added.
“There is nothing in IfATE’s own mission about its role in funding … is IfATE is best placed to lead on assessment and funding aspects? I think that is an important debate.”
IfATE has a crucial role in apprenticeship funding, as it makes an official recommendation on funding bands to the education secretary. For that, IfATE gets funding evidence from trailblazer groups, groups of employers representing each apprenticeship which get their own evidence on funding needs from training providers.
The comments come after industry representatives have criticised IfATE for not listening to their funding recommendations.
Last month, Karen Bailey, the co-chair of the HGV, bus and coach standards trailblazer group said that “funding obstinacy” meant an HGV technician apprenticeship had received lower funding than it deserved, which meant it became loss-making and providers pulled out.
But Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of IfATE, said at the AELP conference that providing funding advice to the secretary of state was “one of the originating reasons that IfATE was created”.
Previously, those recommendations were made by the minister of state at the DfE, which Coupland said the then-minister of state, Nick Boles, found “extremely challenging, and obviously he was on the hook for absolutely every detailed decision that was being made”.
“So, part of the reason for IfATE was to have something independent of that process that could take the politics and take the lobbying out of it and look at it more in terms of the full facts of a case. That’s a core part of our remit and I wouldn’t want to give that up.”
Trust still lacking in the independent training sector
The independent training sector is “maturing”, but there isn’t yet enough trust to simplify the funding system, according to a senior ESFA director.
Andrew Thomas, the ESFA’s director of finance and oversight, spoke about “the real challenges across the sector where a small number of organisations can at times tarnish the reputations of fantastic organisations who are delivering and really putting learners first”.
Thomas recalled that the agency hears calls from training providers for greater simplification around audit and funding compliance across a growing number of central government and devolved funding streams.
“We do want to look at where we can make things simpler. But we still need ensure that there is no tension in terms of how we make sure that public funding is used as intended,” Thomas said.
Thomas compared the ITP sector to the academy sector, where he said there was a greater level of trust, thus enabling more simplification.
“The assurance we can give is greatest in school sector and most challenging in the ITP sector,” he said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Thomas outlined how, in the last three years, the ITP sector’s financial position has improved, with 40 per cent of providers now with ‘outstanding’ financial health, up from 30 per cent two years ago.
A new financial handbook for independent training providers is in the works, with a soft launch planned “towards the end of 2023”.