Technical and Further Education Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) (TFEB 07)

Submission of Written Evidence to the Public Bill Committee considering Technical and Further Education Bill 2016

Introduction

1. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is the representative body for over 800 training providers in England. Independent training providers, which comprise the bulk of our membership, deliver 76% of Apprenticeships and they also deliver the majority of Traineeships. Our members also deliver a range of other vocational education programmes for the DfE’s Education Funding Agency, Skills Funding Agency and ESF funded programmes for young people. Also in membership are over 50 FE Colleges who account for most of the remaining Apprenticeship provision in the country. Our members have therefore a major interest in the role of the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the implementation of the Sainsbury Review proposals via the Government’s Skills Plan. This submission will also comment on the proposed new insolvency regime for FE colleges.

2. Our submission on the Government’s most recent consultations on the Apprenticeship reforms (dated August 2016) can be read here: https://www.aelp.org.uk/news/submissions/details/submission-29/.

PART 1 – TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Schedule 1 – The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

Occupation Categories and Groups

AELP welcomes:

3. The production of a much needed Skills Plan for post-16 skills, offering clear routes through to work or progression in learning with links between classroom and work-based routes.

4. The Government’s recognition that Traineeships will be an important component of the Plan in terms of offering young people a route, involving credible work experience, into an Apprenticeship, sustainable employment or further education.

AELP is concerned that:

5. A framework of only 15 routes across technical education may create an elitist system of education denying many young people a work-based route to Level 2 or 3. It is apparent that many ‘ivory tower’ commentators observing our sector have no idea of the journey of travel that training providers and employers take many young people along to reach Level 2. Not only are they making a major contribution to the Government’s social justice agenda but they are arguably anticipating the impact of Brexit if controls are to be introduced on migrant labour. A skills strategy should be inclusive and start with the whole labour force, addressing skills needs at all levels. With the skills portfolio back under the DfE, it is the perfect opportunity to create a coherent inclusive strategy, not just one for the most able.

6. Having only one qualification per occupational route granted by an exclusive licence does not marry with the insistence on providers bidding on the basis of price for delivery of Apprenticeships to employers – this means one part of the skills market is open whilst another is based on monopoly pricing.

AELP believes that:

7. While the general direction of these proposals is workable, some of the Sainsbury Review recommendations should be treated with extreme caution (see more here: https://www.fenews.co.uk/featured-article/tread-carefully-in-taking-forward-sainsbury-12291).

Standards

AELP welcomes:

8. The drive to a 3 million starts target for Apprenticeship in this Parliament which can be achieved without endangering the overall quality of the programme, subject to addressing the concerns listed below.

9. The extension for the transition deadline for frameworks to standards beyond 2017.

10. Enhanced employer engagement in the process of standards’ development.

11. The concept of the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education as the over-arching ‘owner’ of the Apprenticeships system and the quality within it.

AELP believes:

12. The biggest brake on the growth of Apprenticeships in England to date have been the limitations imposed by the public funding system and until now the tolerance of many subcontracted delivery arrangements which have not offered value for money, although properly regulated arrangements with the employer’s consent are rightly being allowed under the levy.

13. The 3 million target and the notion of maintaining high quality Apprenticeships would both be reinforced if supply side stakeholders were given more input into the design and implementation of the reforms, including those covering standards and assessment.

14. The process of standards development and the policy of End-Point Assessment (EPA) require wholesale review before any further development is taken. In particular, there are too many specialist standards being developed when the adoption of a ‘core and options’ approach may be more beneficial, especially to the apprentices themselves.

15. Work-based learning developing competencies, skills and behaviours should have an element of continuous assessment as well as end point assessment.

AELP is concerned that:

16. Through its proposed funding mechanisms, the Government is encouraging employers and providers to move from Apprenticeship frameworks to standards by reducing the prices payable for frameworks, even though many standards are not yet in place. This makes it very difficult for providers to judge and therefore plan whether future provision will be viable. As has been reported in the sector press, apprentices have also started on Apprenticeships under a new standard without an EPA being in place, which means they have no means to complete it. The situation is exacerbated by the Government’s insistence that employers can negotiate with providers on the price of training and assessment.

17. Reform proposals may not currently be giving sufficient weight to the input of stakeholders and the concerns of and about learners, which must be rectified by the inclusion of stakeholder representatives on the Board of the Institute. We are therefore supportive in principle of the amendments to Schedule 1 of the Bill which have been tabled jointly by Gordon Marsden MP and Mike Kane MP.

18. The omission of qualifications from standards will

o Adversely affect the portability and transferability of apprenticeships

o Make it difficult to make comparisons between standards of level and breadth

o Present difficulties in inspecting for quality.

19. The number of standards being developed, and the investment in time and resource required to develop them, is leading to ‘employer fatigue’ and a drop in employer engagement.

20. EPA may encourage ‘teaching to the test’ rather than a proper assessment of overall skills.

21. Standards may not align to the 15 routes of classroom-based learning in the Skills Plan, trapping learners in the classroom and preventing them stepping off into work-based provision.

22. AELP suggested amendment to the Bill in relation to the omission of qualifications from Apprenticeship standards:

Schedule 1, page 23, line 1, after "set out the outcomes", insert -

"including a recognised technical qualification"

Sharing of information by the Institute, Ofqual, Ofsted and OfS (page 28 of the Bill)

AELP believes:

23. Ofsted should have authority to inspect every apprenticeship.

AELP is concerned that:

24. While we welcome the growth in Degree Apprenticeships, some are not genuinely work based learning and are instead simply a rebranding of more vocationally biased degrees. Stricter monitoring is therefore needed.

25. For Degree Apprenticeships, both training and assessment is in the domain of the university offering them and the QAA is not undertaking adequate quality checks that are needed to safeguard the interests of the apprentice and the employer. This is not the policy for any other level of Apprenticeship where strict firewalls are to be put in place to separate the training and assessment functions. Therefore Ofsted should be encouraged to inspect all Degree Apprenticeship provision.

26. AELP suggested amendment:

to insert ‘Ofqual’ alongside the bodies including Ofsted listed in section 40AA on pages 28 and 29 of the Bill.

PART 2 – FURTHER EDUCATION BODIES: INSOLVENCY ETC

AELP believes:

27. While independent training providers (ITPs) are not in scope of the Area Reviews, they must have an opportunity to contribute to and inform them via local networks, AELP nationally and other appropriate routes.

28. Area Reviews must take all local provision into account before reaching conclusions including the impact on those in supply chains.

29. The Area Review support funds should be available to support all providers.

30. That these funds must not be used to set up competitor Apprenticeship (or other) provision in areas where such high-quality provision already exists.

31. Applications for support funds of any type should be transparent and in the public domain.

32. Any use of Area Review support funds which distort local markets must be open to challenge.

33. Subcontracting arrangements which have previously been successful and high quality should not be automatically terminated as a result of Area Reviews without sound justification.

34. Institutes of Technology may best be delivered as partnerships between different types of provider, and only set up where there is a demonstrable case for a new institution.

35. Intervention policies for poor performance post-April 2017 must be applied equally and using equal criteria between colleges, providers and employer-providers.

36. ITPs should have the chance to initiate improvement action plans in line with the FE Commissioner model if an inadequate grade is received at inspection.

37. Although SFA/EFA can evidence that some ITPs are given this option and retain contracts, this should be the norm for all ITPs, not for exceptional cases.

38. Whilst the Funding Agencies cannot action the removal of a CEO or Director(s) in the same way as a College Principal or Governor, such action could (for example) be a condition of the retention of funding.

AELP is concerned that:

39. Moves by colleges to establish apprenticeship companies as a result of Area Reviews may merely replicate existing provision rather than adding value to the skills portfolio of an area.

40. Whilst current intervention policies from SFA/EFA outline a review process for colleges and employers that are deemed as in contravention of performance polices, the default setting for ITPs is that contracts are summarily terminated.

41. Clarity is required now from the Government and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on whether or not GFE colleges are part of the public sector.

42. Notes on the point above: On reading the Bill’s provisions, observers might be forgiven for thinking that no matter how incompetently a college is managed, the Government will always bail it out.  It would appear to us that this form of underwriting by the Government puts colleges firmly back in the public sector and the ONS should now review colleges’ status. Following the passage of the Education Act 2011, ONS looked at the classification of Further Education Corporations and Sixth Form College Corporations in England. This review resulted in these bodies being reclassified to the Non-Profit Institutions Serving Households (NPISH) sector, from 1 April 2012 (http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http:/www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_266962.pdf).

43. AELP believes that this reclassification should be reviewed by the ONS. This is not merely a technical point. Some colleges have reportedly used their current ‘independent’ status to resist Area Review proposals which is well within their right. However, when AELP has argued that the Government is using a form of state aid to assist colleges in setting up local apprenticeship hubs, we have been told by the SFA that colleges are ‘community assets’ which justifies the further injection of public funding. The insolvency measures in this Bill would also appear to place colleges very much back in the public sector. To us, the classification has become a murky area with Government and colleges choosing which one they prefer according to the issue before them. This should not be allowed to continue.

44. After the Area Review process and the £500m so far that has been provided for support, in the future if a college still fails, we believe the Skills Funding Agency should invite expressions of interest in ownership from the private, college and charitable sectors through a proper competitive process. The Bill allows for this and we agree with measures to protect the interests of existing learners as the main priority but the Government should reassure the Committee that its de facto position should not be presiding over a taxpayer funded bail-out again and again.

PART 3 – FURTHER EDUCATION INFORMATION

AELP welcomes:

45. The provisions in Part 3 of the Bill which can require local authorities to provide information to the Secretary of State on further education in their area.

AELP is concerned that:

46. The transparency and accountability of some city regions and LEPs has left much to be desired in respect of their devolved responsibilities for further education and skills. With transitional arrangements now in place for the full devolving of the Adult Education Budget, it is important that grant and commissioning arrangements command the confidence of local stakeholders and providers. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have identified need for improved accountability and in response the DCLG recently published revised guidance on the handling of all funding flowing through LEPs (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-enterprise-partnership-national-assurance-framework). While the new version is much tighter on the transparency of LEP decision making, we believe that the inclusion of Part 3 in the Bill is a welcome safeguard in the devolution process and the delivery of local FE and skills programmes that yield value for money.

November 2016

 

Prepared 28th November 2016