Education chiefs will reconsider failed bids to join the register of flexi-job apprenticeship agencies in an attempt to bolster its numbers.
The register was updated last month with 16 new names – but this was just over half the number of organisations that had applied to join.
In an update this week, the Department for Education said that any organisation which applied in September 2022 but was rejected solely on financial health grounds would be reconsidered against “an additional test of sustainability”.
The department will contact organisations directly and there will be no need for the submission of additional information.
The DfE’s offer is open only to applicants in the last window and not those who failed with original bids at its launch in February 2022.
The department explained that its existing financial health assessment will remain in place, but a new sustainability assessment will also be carried out.
Organisations that failed to meet the financial health assessment criteria in their application but passed all other aspects – and can demonstrate they pass the new sustainability criteria – will be able to join the register.
The current financial health assessments require the submission of statements such as full accounts, end of period profit and loss accounts and balance sheet and a breakdown of sums with creditors.
A financial health grade is then issued based on profitability, solvency and debt ratio, with one of four grades given – outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate.
The guidance does not yet make clear what the new sustainability criteria will contain.
However, the DfE confirmed that providers accepted based on the sustainability measure will be subject to “a higher degree of oversight by the DfE”.
Flexi-job apprenticeship agencies aim to support apprenticeship delivery in sectors with shorter-term working models, such as construction or the creative arts, where employment for a year is not possible and project-based employment is the norm.
The agencies act as an anchor for those apprentices and the administration work needed for them, but apprentices move among employers through the course of their apprenticeship.
The DfE said it had received around 30 applications for its latest window, confirming in January that 16 new names have joined the register. All joined without grant funding.
The DfE committed £5 million in grant funding to those 10 agencies at the original launch in 2021/22 and 2022/23, with a target of 1,500 apprentices recruited in the initial roll-out.
The department said it was continuing to see demand from employers that wished to join the register in sectors which face barriers to traditional apprenticeship models. Target numbers for the register are not set.
In the last application window, the DfE said it was keen to try the flexi-job apprenticeship model in sectors not previously included. Among the additions were organisations in the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries.
The DfE added that the new sustainability assessment will be incorporated into the evaluation checks for future application windows to join the register.
Concern has previously been raised over whether organisations which received grant funding would be able to remain on the register once their grant deals expire at the end of this month.
One of those to raise questions, ScreenSkills, explained that film and TV firms already paid the apprenticeship levy, apprentice wages and associated on-costs. It would therefore not be realistic to expect them to provide funding for a support service for flexi-job apprenticeships once government grants cease, it said.
One of the two organisations to drop out early told FE Week that a lack of take-up was behind its decision to come off the register.