The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Department for Education (DfE) have released the funding rules changes for 2023-2024. After exploring the changes from the previous year’s rules, a theme emerges: many of the changes make it logistically easier for employers to take on apprentices.
Here are some of the changes that have particular significance for employers.
Flexibility in off-the-job training
Some of the greatest changes in terms of impact for employers are around off-the-job (OTJ) training. Previously, some active learning and OTJ had to take place every 4 weeks; now it must take place every calendar month.
This doesn’t sound like a massive change, but it provides important flexibility for employers who may want their apprentices to be working throughout most of a two-month period. For example, this will benefit those employing retail apprentices over Christmas and January sales.
Making enrolment easier
To help facilitate the sign-up process, the apprentice’s line manager is no longer required to sign the documentation. Any suitable individual at the employing organisation with responsibility to agree to the programme can do so.
In addition, training providers can now accept agreement on a training plan in the form of an email from the employer on the apprentice’s start date and obtain the employer’s signature within 42 days of that. However, using this new prerogative should remain an exception. To maintain a smooth onboarding process, we advise that employers continue to look to provide confirmation and a signature before the start date as a matter of policy.
There is also greater flexibility in the initial assessment process. The employer must, of course, agree on the recognition of prior learning, how the apprenticeship will be achieved, the price of the apprenticeship and have input in progress reviews. However, if the employer is unable to attend the initial assessment, the provider can give them the opportunity to contribute afterwards and send them the relevant information after the meeting for review and signature.
Where an apprentice works less than 30 hours per week, employers must still extend the planned duration of the apprenticeship. However, apprentices can now complete once they have met the one-year minimum duration provided they have met the OTJ requirements.
On the more administrative side of these changes, a statement signed by the apprentice and the employer to agree that OTJ was less than planned only needs to be provided when both the duration is shorter than planned and hours worked are less than planned.
More flexible review timings
Progress reviews must be completed at least four times a year rather than every 12 weeks, and an alternative frequency can be agreed if there is evidence of good a reason. Similar to the initial assessment, employers must be sent details to review and sign after the meeting if they can’t attend the progress review.
A clearer role for ITPs
The changes also take some of the administrative workload from the employer and place the responsibilities with their training provider. Most noticeably, providers are now responsible for choosing the end-point assessment organisation (EPAO) for the employer, which allows them to draw on their experience and existing relationships. That said, the employer may continue to select the EPAO if they wish.
It has also been clarified that the provider is only responsible for checking that the apprentice is being paid a lawful wage by the employer while the apprentice is on programme.
Providers may wish to make employers aware of this greater degree of flexibility as part of their marketing processes. They should mean more businesses are incentivised to start offering apprenticeships or to expand the number they already offer.
These changes represent a leap forward in simplifying apprenticeships for businesses. However, the ESFA must now ensure that there is a robust and clear framework that allows employers to properly appreciate what is expected of them. The best way to do that would be to recognise and build upon the invaluable experience and expertise of training providers and EPAOs.