U-turn welcomed on funding for employees taught outside the workplace

Courses for people in employment are once again allowed to use public funding, so long as they are taught outside the workplace, the Education and Skills Funding Agency has confirmed in a significant policy U-turn.

Training in the workplace is not typically funded from the Adult Education Budget, but the sector kicked up a stink after the ESFA announced new rules for 2017/18 that went even further.

These made courses ineligible for funding for people in work, even if taught outside the workplace, through distance learning, for example.

But the agency has U-turned under pressure from influential FE bodies, led by the awarding organisation NCFE, and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers.

Esme Winch, the managing director of NCFE, told FE Week that they had been right to take notice of the many grave concerns held by those working on the front line.

“I am delighted the government has listened to our collective efforts,” she said.

“Our key concerns were not only the need to safeguard the ability of employers to access level two qualifications, which are essential to training of their workforce and filling skills gaps.

“But also to highlight that if the adult education budget couldn’t be used to deliver this support to adult learners in the workplace, that it was putting over a million learning opportunities at risk in crucial growing sectors of the economy such as health and care.”

Simon Ashworth, AELP’s chief policy officer, explained that his organisation approached both the ESFA and the Department for Education earlier this month, to raise concern over the dire consequences of “this innocuous rule change”.

“We felt the impact would be significant and strike a serious blow across a number of sectors,” he said.

“We are delighted to say that following a review, they have informed us that they have listened to our concerns and recognise the impact these changes would of had on employers, learners and also providers.”

Brenda McLeish, chief executive officer for Learning Curve Group, added: “We are delighted the ESFA and DfE have listened to sector feedback and agreed that this activity is an important part of the delivery offer, and will enable learners to develop their skills and improve their opportunities to progress.”

One example of an online qualification affected by the change, offered by Learning Curve to care home workers and certificated by NCFE, is the level two course for awareness of mental health problems.

The ESFA confirmed its change of heart in a weekly online update bulletin, where it confirmed the rules had been reverted to the previous wording from 2016/17, in version two of the Adult Education Budget Funding and Performance Management Rules 2017 to 2018.

The key section from the first version read: “We will not fund any learning aim delivered at an employee’s workplace, or is relevant to their job and/or is relevant to their employer’s business.”

The second version now reads: “We will not fund any learning aim delivered at an employee’s workplace and relevant to either their job or their employer’s business.”

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    • But you can fund a pipefitting course for a pipe fitter if it’s run outside of your workplace. This change means you can still pay for courses that are relevant to your business but provided by a training provider and not to take place in your premises. Not all bad.