Skills Bootcamp results missing in action

Delays in data showing how effective the courses are have been described as "unacceptable"

Delays in data showing how effective the courses are have been described as "unacceptable"

24 May 2024, 15:41

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More than a third of the money allocated to the government’s flagship Skills Bootcamps programme has gone unspent, despite learner number targets being exceeded.

The figures, published following a Freedom of Information request, suggest high numbers of participants fail to complete their course or gain employment.

Skills Bootcamps are intensive and “flexible” Department for Education-funded training programmes lasting up to three months and ending with a “guaranteed” job interview that aims to improve adults’ careers in areas of national skills priorities.

Despite their significant budget – £584 million up to 2025 – the scheme had received little coverage in the national media until Tuesday, when work and pensions secretary Mel Stride claimed they would be “targeted” at sectors facing staff shortages due to tightened immigration rules.

Unexplained underspend

The government aims to train at least 150,000 people through Skills Bootcamps by next year.

Figures show that for each of the three financial years between 2020 and 2023, starts targets were surpassed. Most recently in 2022-23, enrolments totalled 40,400 against a target of 36,000.

However, just £130 million of a total £206 million allocated over the 2020 to 2023 period was spent. In 2022-23 the government allocated £150 million but only spent £85 million.

Training providers who deliver the majority of bootcamps are paid 40 per cent of the total course fee at the first “milestone” of 15 hours’ guided learning hours, followed by a further 30 per cent when a participant has a job interview that is “guaranteed” as part of the course.

Providers who can show evidence their learners have found a job or moved to a more senior role at the same employer can claim the final 30 per cent payment.

The programme’s underspend suggests providers are unable to claim payments for their learners completing the bootcamp or moving into a new or better job, which account for 60 per cent of the total fee.

No proof to claim of ‘great success’

Former skills minister Robert Halfon told Parliament late last year that bootcamps were a “great success” and resulted in “good” outcomes for many learners.

But the DfE does not publish outcomes data for the programme – officials only release numbers of participants.

The government has published initial research reports about bootcamp participation which included partial data on outcomes for a few thousand learners.

It revealed half didn’t achieve a positive employment outcome.

A follow-up report found participants were being given “inappropriate interviews”, while a separate Ofsted thematic review in 2022 warned of inconsistent training quality and poor oversight from the government.

The Department for Education refused to explain the large underspend figures.

A spokesperson insisted that Skills Bootcamps provide learners with opportunities for “higher-paid, future-proofed careers”.

They added that course completion and outcome data for 2021-22 was “due” to be published this summer, with further evaluation reports expected “later this year”.

Delay in performance data ‘unacceptable’

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said that while bootcamps are a good idea “in principle”, early evaluations have suggested they do not reach people who “needed the most help” such as those with lower qualification levels.

He added: “The government needs to be much more open and timely about on programme performance; it’s unacceptable that we don’t have timely information on how many people complete bootcamps and find jobs.”

Director of policy at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Simon Ashworth said bootcamps have an “important role” to play in solving the country’s skills shortages.

He added some providers have “struggled to deliver Skills Bootcamps at the agreed funding levels and when funding is realised, and there is a lack of certainty about future investment post-election”.

Sue Pember, policy director of adult education body HOLEX, told FE Week that while her organisation supported the concept of bootcamps, it had long been “concerned” about the quality of training from unproven providers.

She added that many learners who drop out are likely to struggle because they lack level 2 qualifications or English and maths skills when they start.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Hewitt

    Vaguely wondering if the underspend is because people bid too low/lower than expected to make sure they got the contract? It continues to boggle my mind that there is no set rate for the programme, but if starts are above expected and spend is below, it may be this as much as drop out (which surely would’ve been factored into the budget)?

    Of course, bidding low means less resource to spend on the programme which could well be contributing to higher than expected drop outs, a truly vicious circle…

  2. Unfortunately this comes down to employer engagement and more fundamentally employer demand.
    Take digital as the perfect example – businesses are not prepared to hire at the entry level as they are demanding immediate time to competence and thus ‘poaching’ from competitors – hence the IT Tech merry-go-round continues.
    Many employers pledge they are behind the need to drive skills development but there needs to be the proverbial walking of the walk !!

  3. .There is also the issue of a lack of accountability for learners, as evidenced by the fact that a majority of those who have successfully completed their training subsequently cease communication with the training providers. This leaves the providers facing a significant financial burden, often operating at a 60% loss. I believe this aspect needs to be addressed.

    Once learners have acquired a skill, they will likely use it eventually, even if it falls outside the 6-month milestone attainment window. Therefore, it seems unfair that providers are penalized for fulfilling their responsibilities, simply because learners do not submit the required evidence.