Apprenticeship providers call on government to find three months of ‘catch-up’ cash

The volume of apprentices who require more training due to Covid-19 interruptions is starting to “spiral steeply”, providers have warned as they make a fresh plea for extra financial support.

In a new submission to the Department for Education, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers has today called on the government to extend funded training for apprentices by three months to support a “catch-up period”.

The membership organisation, which is holding a virtual conference on business recovery from the coronavirus pandemic today and tomorrow, states that a “significant cohort” of apprentices have made slower progress than originally planned during lockdown because remote learning is “not always as effective as face-to-face” and assessments have been delayed.

As a result, a “growing number” of apprentices who were due to finish in the summer are moving past their planned end dates, becoming “unfunded” and require more than planned training.

The AELP said “many providers” have told them that the volume of apprentices out of funding is starting to “spiral steeply”.

The association believes the solution is an injection of “additional catch-up funding to support the extension to apprentices’ programmes by up to three months, with additional funding needed to cover this period of additional catch-up training”.

AELP chief policy officer Simon Ashworth told FE Week it would be “too messy” to provide the extra funding on a per apprentice basis, and instead “something sensible and pragmatic to support all those apprentices in the cohort who have had their learning disrupted” would be needed.

He added that the three-month request is based on the impact in April, May and June specifically before lockdown was eased, but recognised some apprentices might need more while some will need less.

AELP managing director Jane Hickie said: “We hear stories of training providers doing everything they can to support apprentices even when the government funding has been switched off, but the government must step in now with more support to ensure no apprentice is unfairly disadvantaged.”

The association’s Covid recovery package for skills points out that there have been “no specific measures” put in place to protect apprentices from the threat of redundancy when the furlough scheme ends.

To reduce the number of apprentices becoming unemployed, the AELP has called on government to “introduce a new wage subsidy for young apprentices aged 16 to 24 targeted specifically at those who have been on furlough and are returning to their programmes”.

Employed adult learners who are also “at risk” of redundancy or working their notice cannot continue to study in the workplace and be government funded under current rules, the AELP’s submission adds, meaning that “even if their employer is willing and wants to support their departing employee to prepare for a new role after redundancy, they cannot be funded”. 

AELP has now recommended that the Education and Skills Funding Agency should “flex the funding rules to allow employed learners at risk of redundancy on adult education budget programmes to be able to continue to study in the workplace and continue to be funded for it”.

These proposals are among seven key recommendations in AELP’s ‘Targeted Autumn Covid-19 Recovery Package for Skills’ which the association says are short-term actions they believe the government should take before the Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review outcome expected in late November.

Other recommendations include retaining Covid-related rule flexibilities until the end of the academic year 2020-21 on how apprentices are assessed, as well as ensuring that the funding of apprentices already half-way through longer term apprenticeships of three to four years “will be safeguarded”.

Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister, said: “I recognise Covid-19 has had a significant impact on apprentices, employers, training providers, and assessment organisations, which is why we introduced a range of flexibilities to ensure that apprenticeships could continue where possible.

“This included encouraging training providers to shift their training offer online so their students can continue their studies and so that providers are paid as normal, as well as making changes to end point assessments. We have also offered additional financial support to providers through our Provider Relief Schemes so they can continue to deliver high-quality training.

“Our Redundancy Support Service for Apprentices is  helping to make sure apprentices who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 get the support they need to find a new opportunity and get on the path to a new career. We’re also considering how we can go further still to support redundant apprentices to complete their training, and will announce further detail in the coming days.”

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  1. David down

    Are they serious ?

    So providers wee complimented on their continuing online support and progression for learners but we all know it was spasmodic and really ‘keeping in touch’ with little learning going on. Confirmed now from feedback to Aelp

    And now they want funding again for something they have already been funded for – whilst most of their staff are on furlough.

    Do the Aelp really think this gives them any credibility when they put forward proposals like this. If I was the government I would wonder what planet Aelp are on

    I suggest Aelp tell their members to get real and come back with something more sensible. No-one is going to pay twice !

  2. Bob Smith

    Why would they need catch up funding? Surely the learners should have been on a break in learning, rather than falling behind on their programme? They’ve also had the option to furlough staff to address issues where trainers are underdeployed.

    Sorry, but I think this is just plain wrong.

  3. 1. A planned learning break has to be agreed by the employer not just the training provider
    2. Lots of training provider and colleges did a fantastic job of switching to online delivery in a very short period of time and I am sure delivered the best they could but you can’t get away from the fact face to face is better than online
    3. Does that mean no extra funding Should apply at all then as I am guessing that colleges and schools have also had the funding for students they are catching up ??? Or is that different
    4 I guess you don’t actually support apprenticeships based on your comments

    • Bob Smith

      1 – I’m not sure what your point is here. If they’re not on a break in learning, why would you need extra money to deliver?
      2 – Again, what’s your point? Face to face is better, but virtual can deliver exactly the same result.
      3 – Definitely not. Colleges are not calling for extra money to fund catch up on apprenticeships (which they also deliver). Classroom programmes are different, because you can’t teach practical skills virtually. It’s very difficult to teach someone to lay bricks using a VLE. Its much easier to keep an apprentice on programme than it is a classroom learner.
      4 – Wrong on every level. I just don’t think throwing money at profiteering private training providers is the right thing to do. There is no logical reason to do this.

      • Amy Ealing

        “It’s very difficult to teach someone to lay bricks using a VLE” – pretty sure there is an apprenticeship in that rather than a classroom course. Just saying.

        This is absolutely needed to provide the support apprentices disadvantaged by coronavirus deserve.

  4. AELP strategy meeting:

    ‘Mmmmm, the government have a lot on their plate at the moment what with Covid and everything. They are spending money like sailors, so why don’t we see if we can ask for some more funding. Our few extra million will not be missed.’

    Just saying

  5. Gail Dalton-Ayres

    It is obvious these comments are from people who don’t actually work for a private training provider.
    IPTs have always been the poor relation compared to colleges and other FE/HE establishments. We don’t get grant funding, we don’t get funding for any new premises or equipment, many ITPs didn’t qualify for the provider relief scheme the government issued twice!! to colleges who will automatically get some if not all of their funding protected.
    ITPs did a fabulous job moving to online platforms often in short spaces of time to help keep learners engaged. And yes will have kept the support going to keep these learners on programme to help avoid further absences in learning or going AWOL!! We also provided very important mental health support and welfare checks as we have seen the anxiety levels of young people have gone through the roof, so were not going to apologise for keeping the funding going to supply these vital services during this interim period! As far as getting paid anyway, how do you expect ITPs (many are small businesses) not to function without government backing and yes we will also have taken a gamble as there has always been the ESFA guideline stating no extra funding will be available but we took the risk of this anyway to help keep the learners on programme. We still have rent to pay, business costs to cover, staff were not all furloughed and have managed to keep learners on programme, so forgive me if we ask for a little extra 3 months OPPs to help cover the inevitable extra training these learners will need as many programme are practical and so there is only so much online can be taught!! face to face still has to be arranged when they come back to training centres. Yes, IPTs took a gamble to keep online learning going because it was the right thing to do and yes we will have to supply further unpaid training because of these decisions but we hopefully will not have lost thousands of apprentices because of our commitment – cut us some slack!