The NAO report failed to spot the most immediate apprenticeship problem

8 Mar 2019, 10:30

The National Audit Office findings into the apprenticeship reform repeated a number of well-reported issues and concerns, ranging from the fall in starts to an insufficient budget in the longer term. 

Surprisingly, they failed to say anything about the farce of small employers being turned away because: 1. Non-levy funding had already run out or 2. Non-levy funding remains unavailable.

1. Non-levy funding for small employers running out

FE week was first to report apprentices being turned away in early February and a few weeks later the ESFA said: “We can confirm that we are now in a position to fund overdelivery.”

Good news? Not so fast – they still said the “over-delivery is subject to affordability” and only applying until March 2019 – so nothing had actually changed.
They also ruled out funding any non-levy over-delivery after March, even for 16 to 18 year-olds.

And on Monday, at a celebratory National Apprenticeship Week event, a vice principal of a college told me they were already debating whether to stop working with small employers entirely.

2. Non-levy funding for small employers remains unavailable

On Wednesday the apprenticeships minister Anne Milton visited UEL to speak to apprentices. 

After the event I spoke to UEL and was told how they regularly turn eager small employers away because they were not awarded any non-levy funding.
Like so many universities and newer providers, they successfully applied for funds, but ended up being pushed below the ESFA minimum allocation threshold.
So instead of small employers, like nurseries, being subsidised to support young people onto level 2 and 3 apprentices the public funds are being blown on managers in big private and public organisations, including the ESFA.

The minister seems to understand how ridiculous this is, telling me: “what sticks in people’s throats is people on £100,000 year and the state subsidising their MBA”.

Exactly! Indefensible, yet it has been allowed with no limits and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. 

Despite the NAO failing to identify the farce of small employers being turned away whilst blue-chips fill their boots with MBAs, I’m holding out hope the Public Accounts
Committee will still quiz the permanent secretary, Jonathan Slater, about it at their hearing on March 25. 

I would very much like to hear how Slater justifies locking 98 percent of employers, those classed as non-levy, out of the apprenticeship system.

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