AELP Editorial – 9 January 2019

By Mark Dawe, Chief Executive at AELP:

Happy New Year everyone – and what a year ahead of us!  Having just come back from 2 weeks off I was describing the feeling to the Northern Network, (incidentally both Paul Wileman and David Baker were there on behalf of NELP) who I met in Leeds on Tuesday – it is like waking up from a very heavy night (eg at the AELP conference) feeling ok but a bit wobbly and then slowly recalling what happened and what was said!!  As I ran through with the networks all the aspects of work AELP is doing with AEB, Functional Skills, Traineeships, Apprenticeships etc it was a slow reawakening to the size of the task still in front of us.

We summarised some of the key concerns about the impact of the current apprenticeship policy on social mobility over the Christmas period in the TES.

2019 is the year of the spending review – AELP could submit pages of thoughts and requests but to be honest I think most of our members would agree with the following:

* Apprenticeships are working and are the best form of skills development for the individual and UK PLC
* Government needs to ensure that there is enough resource available to ensure adequate sustainable funding for all levels, all sectors across all parts of the country for every size of business
* There needs to be equal attention given to social mobility, productivity and dealing with the skills consequences of Brexit and the wider challenges presented by a global economy
* In particular, there is a concern about the under 25s, level 2s and SMEs along with functional skills funding for apprentices, which underlines the need for a stand-alone £1bn annual non-levy apprenticeship budget
* Traineeships need to be properly supported, monitored and funded
*A prosperity fund at least equivalent to the ESF is required and the National Retraining Scheme needs to be properly resourced and start delivering through those providers best engaged with employers

How this is achieved is almost irrelevant – an increase in HE funding made available for apprenticeships, changes in the levy, more Treasury money, etc – apprentices are amazing and we need to fund more of them.

Meanwhile, as I was preparing to plunge back into the world of AELP, I read a couple of articles that had been published over the break. I don’t mind anyone sharing their opinions, even a head of English and drama in a school in the South of England can write about apprenticeships. But surely for a magazine like the TES at least the facts should be right and they shouldn’t be publishing ill-informed, incoherent drivel based factually inaccuracies – come on TES you can do better than this, and often do (see the AELP article!!!) and it is your editorial job – why not ask an assessor or a trainer rather than a drama teacher if this is the sort of output you get??

I will let you draw your own conclusions about the article –  ‘Apprentices shouldn’t be abandoned and invisible‘.

I eased myself into 2019 with a visit to the British Racing School – one of our members who has just got an outstanding Ofsted – congratulations to them.  Incredible work in a sector that is actually desperate for more skilled staff. I certainly see a range of job roles!!  But they didn’t get a non-levy contract because they were too small – sometimes the madness of what we are going through really hits home.  And they serve adults and young people from across the country as a specialist provider – it is providers like these we need to include in our thinking when looking at the consequences of devolution – do Birmingham and Manchester really want to prevent their residents being able to take up these types of amazing opportunities.

AELP is receiving some great responses to our draft consultation document on Business Admin Level 2 developed with the trailblazer group – here is the link for the consultation – any other case studies or additions to the specification still welcomed before the close on Friday.

Yet another great example of the importance of Business Admin level 2 we received from someone working in the sector:

“I left school at 18 after completing my A-Levels (and not achieving very good results!) and did the Level 2 Business Admin apprenticeship and then progressed onto the Level 3 Business Admin apprenticeship. I was promoted from an administrator to Contracts Manager, managing £1.2m worth of ESFA funding contracts at the age of 22. Two years later at 24, contract allocations have grown massively, I don’t have a degree and I know for a fact that without that apprenticeship I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now, and it would probably have taken another 10+ years to be doing what I am doing now”

In the run into Christmas the DfE and ESFA (they are sort of the same thing now) gave us the usual range of presents just as everyone was logging off their computers:

We had the government response to the education select committee report The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity.  I can leave it to the chair of the select committee, to sum up the response –

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: “Our report highlighted how too many apprentices are being let down by a system that fails to deliver high-quality training and the support they need to get on in life. While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done” and an important view that “Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route”

We have highlighted the main parts of the response.  One key line was around future controls on funding – where many have been worried.  I will re-emphasise nothing will happen before August and the ESFA are in discussions with us and AELP members “We agree with the Committee that a provider should demonstrate competence before being able to grow significantly” This is absolutely what AELP has been arguing – yes have controls in place, monitoring etc for new providers – make sure they demonstrate delivery and financial competency – once this has been achieved then we don’t need to be arbitrary limits.  What the government and providers need is just good account management.  I am already hearing reports from around the country that there are better conversations happening with ESFA staff – so cross fingers this direction of travel continues.

I am sure you were all relieved that the secretary of state announced that “The introduction of T Levels is not under threat. T Levels are a way of making sure young people gain the skills they need to get a great job. The programme is on track and the first T Levels will be taught in September 2020.”

T levels have just had UCAS points awarded. However, there is a serious concern with some of our members that is much more current than the distant flicker on the horizon of T levels. What about advanced apprenticeships – where are their UCAS points? They used to have them – generally thanks to the embedded qualification (won’t run through that argument again). Surely if level 3 standards are better quality than frameworks they should be getting at least the same UCAS points if not more – not something clearly any official has thought about. They are now! I think below summarises the issues that we have raised:

* It’s a real problem if UCAS points have not been sorted for current apprentices on standards and those considering starting a level 3 – we are getting reports of parents stopping their children doing a level 3 apprenticeship as there are no points, choosing a less suitable college course instead believing that will lead to better progression opportunities in University etc
* Frameworks were given UCAS points, standards are meant to be better quality – no UCAS points doesn’t make sense and throws that statement into question
* Reflects academic snobbery and elitism of the HE sector if they don’t award UCAS points to standards
* Where’s the parity of esteem – are we hearing a message that gaining knowledge skills and behaviours through on the job learning is somehow less value than sitting in a classroom

We will let you know how this progresses.

Some other gems I picked up over Xmas – I just can’t imagine even hinting at this approach to staff management and motivation….
“KPMG has told its UK staff that they will be fined £100 if they submit important paperwork late, angering employees who feel the policy is patronising and unduly harsh.” You don’t say – I think the policy might have been revised now, but they will still be charging for the loss of a “small range” of items such as mice, tablet pens and Ethernet cables. Thank god I don’t work there anymore – it would have got very expensive for me.

When talking about the reduced employer contribution, one provider said to me that their message to their hairdressing employers is that it was now the cost of “One blow dry a week“ – some of the charges I have seen could fund one or two whole apprenticeships.

Devolution and the related tender processes are in full swing – there was an excellent event on Monday that I attended supported by the West Midlands CA, the WM provider network and AELP – I believe 175 providers attended. Between AELP (and the role Harminder has started for AELP) and the local networks, we aim to support providers as much as possible. The combined authorities are consulting with us on approaches to sub-contracting and other issues which is great to be involved with. We are generally seeing a greater proportion of the budget being commissioned, with the notable exception of London at the moment. WMCA confirmed that anyone grant funded outside their area would have their grant added to the tender and would have to bid for the delivery in their combined authority area – that is 30% of the budget now being tendered.  We will keep members up to speed as to what is happening across the country, but please let us know if you are picking anything up as well.  A question we had the other day was whether providers delivering devolved AEB would be subject to Ofsted – we are told the short answer is yes, and that includes new providers only delivering AEB – but there are details to be sorted.

There was a nice endorsement for FE from the report: Post-16 education: outcomes for disadvantaged students.

The largest volume of disadvantaged male students who progressed in high earning achieved their highest qualification at level 2 or 3 in FE. The data consistently shows FE is more effective at getting higher qualification levels for this group than schools. However, although the same trend applies to females, the earnings progression that results from it is less marked.  So still plenty of work to do be done (perhaps underplaying the significant disparity we see), but another feather in the FE cap.

It’s worth reading the Apprenticeship accountability statement that was also published when everyone was at their Xmas lunch.

This clearly states that the ESFA has a responsibility “to support a healthy and competitive marketplace of quality providers” – these are important words in an official document – competitive, healthy and marketplace – as well as the statement that they should be “Publishing and operating a provider intervention strategy, which makes clear the triggers for intervention (such as quality, financial, safeguarding) and the nature of sanctions that may be applied, including market exit” – clear published guidance is really important – too often the process is opaque and a total mystery.

What isn’t so clear is what exactly the IFA  will be adding when Proposing the quality criteria applied to the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers.

And finally we read in FE Week that the IFA “is considering the request and will respond as soon as possible in the new year,” – the request to publish the presentation showing the apprenticeship budget running out next year

Faster Better indeed – it has been over a month, and I don’t get what there is to consider. A public meeting with a presentation by a public body on public funding. There is no option, the slides should be published.  And then we can all work on making sure there is enough budget to deliver all types of apprenticeships – see our spending review request above!!!

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