Who cares? Funding boost won’t spark renaissance in care apprenticeships

Nearly 200 training providers have stopped delivering care apprenticeships since 2019

Nearly 200 training providers have stopped delivering care apprenticeships since 2019

Last year’s £1,000 uplift to adult care apprenticeship funding is not enough to entice training providers back to the market, as the number of new apprentices plummets, an FE Week investigation has found.

Nearly 200 training providers have ceased delivery of the level 2 adult care worker and level 3 lead adult care worker apprenticeships since 2019. Annual starts on the programmes have nosedived. In 2022/23, there were 10,500 fewer new care apprentices than in 2018/19.

FE Week identified 108 training providers, colleges and councils that delivered care apprenticeships in 2020/21 that didn’t in 2022/23. Of those, 23 independent training providers have closed and just six have re-started care apprenticeships this academic year.

In recent years, major care training providers Qube Learning and Quest Vocational Training also closed their doors.

Increasing demand for social care, high vacancies, and staff turnover – as well as low pay and poor terms and conditions – are all putting huge pressure on social care recruitment and retention.

In its annual state of care report, the Care Quality Commission said over half of adult social care providers had staff recruitment challenges which was reducing capacity in the face of rising demand.

With running costs increasing with high levels of inflation, fees for compulsory qualifications and assessments, alongside large drop-out rates, training providers are now reluctant to re-enter the care sector on what have been loss-making funding rates for some.

‘Exceptional’ funding increase

Hope was on the horizon when both care apprenticeships were selected for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s exceptional funding review in 2022. But funding was only increased from £3,000 to £4,000 which many providers felt still fell short of what was needed.

Simon Ashworth, director of policy of the Association of Employment Providers (AELP), said although AELP was “pleased to help drive” the 33 per cent funding increase, it “has only had a limited impact”.

“It [the exceptional funding review] took far too long, the starting rates were set way too low, and the cost base of providers has increased significantly so it still isn’t enough to cover costs for most providers, unless operating at scale,” Ashworth explained.

For GTS-Global Ltd, the hard-fought increase to care apprenticeship funding last year “wouldn’t impact significantly” its decision to re-enter the care training sector because of the high number of drop-outs.

Sean Rafferty, operations director at GTS-Global, told FE Week: “We believe our achievement rates would still be affected since learners prioritise obtaining the mandatory qualification.”

Other reasons for learner withdrawals included job transitions and mental health concerns, Rafferty added.

“Although the funding band increase is I’m sure very welcome to providers who deliver these apprenticeships, it wouldn’t make us reconsider delivering them as they don’t tie into our strategic plans,” said Luke Parsons, finance and strategy manager at GLP Training.

A further funding band increase could be on the cards.

Both the level 2 adult care worker and level 3 lead adult care worker apprenticeship standards are currently in the early stages of being revised with the occupational standards, assessment plans and funding bands under review.

AELP has called for all apprenticeships, including the care standards, to be funded at a minimum funding threshold of £5,000. Ashworth said this would “ensure viability of quality delivery and stop the ongoing loss of training capacity in this sector.”

Of the 108 providers that have dropped care apprenticeships since 2021, 38 were further education colleges.

Provider mix

Private training providers have upped their market share of care apprenticeships, rising from 84 per cent in 2018/19 to 92 per cent in 2022/23.

Meanwhile, the number of care apprenticeships delivered by further education colleges has halved. In 2018/19, 14 per cent of starts were with colleges, now it is just seven per cent.

College leaders told FE Week the focus on the T Level in health and healthcare partly explains their drop in involvement in apprenticeships.

One of the country’s largest college groups, NCG, withdrew its health and social care apprenticeship offer after reviewing “employer demand, retention rates and sustainable funding”.

NCG and Telford College both said they are instead focusing on growing their health T Levels. Telford College said it was reintroducing the level 2 health care support worker this September.

Risky drop-outs

Only four in ten care apprentices actually complete and achieve their apprenticeship, making the provision high risk for training providers and their achievement rates.

The latest available figures show an achievement rate of 40.1 per cent on the level 2 adult care worker standard and 40.9 per cent on the level 3 lead adult care worker standard in 2021/22.

Achievements on these standards fall far short of the national average, which was 51.4 per cent, and way below the government’s 67 per cent target.

Achievement rates for 2022/23 are due to be published on Thursday.

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  1. Albert Wright

    The domestic shortage of care workers has seen an increase in immigration to fill the labour gap but this is unlikely to please the Government.

    The analysis and figures above should be sufficient to get the Government to increase the pay of care workers and the funding to train them.

    Given the continuing danger of there being further outbreaks of disease it would be foolish not to ensure we have sufficient care workers.

  2. Phil Hatton

    The one thing that the funding of care apprenticeships shows is that the system originally used by Ifate did not work in reflecting true delivery costs. I can remember how it had worked with someone chairing from the old FEFC, an inspector who understood quality of delivery, a rep from awarding bodies and reps from different sized providers. You ended up with a fairly costed model that actually worked. As usual the shiny new methodology was sticking a wet finger into the wind.

  3. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Adult Care apprenticeship sector has faced significant challenges, not least of which has been a marked decrease in training providers. This downturn can be directly attributed to the stringent and indiscreet imposed by OFSTED, which, to hold institutions accountable for programme progress, seemingly overlooked the extraordinary circumstances imposed by the pandemic. These were circumstances that undeniably exacerbated the workload and mental health burdens on learners within the sector, arguably more so than in any other. Despite this, OFSTED’s response needed more flexibility and understanding of the unique challenges faced by training providers, many of whom, like myself, led organisations that were subsequently deemed inadequate.

    The implications of this stringent approach by OFSTED extend far beyond a mere reduction in training providers; they strike at the very heart of the Adult Care sector’s ability to thrive. For the sector to truly succeed and to attract the talent it desperately needs, it must offer competitive wages that are on par with those in nursing. Moreover, it requires regulation of staff training that mirrors the rigor and respect accorded to nursing and Early Years sector, ensuring it is viewed not just as a job, but as a valued career.

    Only through such reforms can we hope to address the current shortfall in skilled professionals and ensure that the Adult Care sector is equipped to meet the demands of an aging population. It is a matter of not only professional necessity but of moral imperative to reevaluate and adapt our approach to training and valuing those who commit their lives to caring for the most vulnerable among us.