Evidence is emerging of disjointed government policy on the COVID-19 crisis and apprenticeships, with training providers in England saying they are close to collapse because they are being refused funds allocated by the Cabinet Office.
Just as the good news emerged that apprentices would be allowed to carry on their training, even if furloughed under the government’s Job Retention Scheme, the private companies tasked with training them in England issued an urgent plea for a policy change on funding.
Private training firms account for 70% of apprenticeship training, with the rest provided by colleges of further education (FE).
Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) said that FE colleges would continue to receive funding as normal, even though they have been closed by government edict, while private training companies would have to fall back on emergency business support programmes such as loans and the Job Retention Scheme.
The decision not to pay the private contractors at all appears to be in conflict with the DfE’s own advice to providers on how to manage training during the COVID-19 crisis, which tells them how to ensure funding continues in the event of interrupted training. It says it will provide “clarification on how to record breaks in learning so that funding is not unnecessarily disrupted.”
“Their actions are a direct result of the Department for Education’s refusal to comply with Cabinet Office COVID-19 guidelines which require all government departments and public bodies to pay their contracted suppliers during the crisis,” said Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), which represents private training companies.
The governments of Wales and Scotland are reportedly continuing to fund contractors.
AELP polled its 700 members. Of the 279 who responded, 49 of them might close altogether, 79 will definitely mothball, and 154 will downsize.
“These survey results are from last Wednesday,” the AELP’s Mark Dawe added, “and in the absence of any further action from the DfE since then, the situation in terms of mothballing and potential shutdowns has worsened. Action on funding apprenticeships and other important skills programmes is needed right now if the government seriously wants this year’s school-leavers and unemployed adults who need retraining after the crisis to have apprenticeships available to them.”
“The normal protocols on making representations to ministers have had to be suspended and I have asked the current DfE ministers if they want to be the ones remembered for throwing hundreds of training providers, rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, on to the scrapheap. All they have to do is follow the Cabinet Office guidelines and use the money already sitting in the DfE.
“My message to the DfE is simple:
Guarantee April’s funding for apprenticeships and other work based programmes to allow time for us all to sort through the details of how a sustainable funding model might work.”