Apprenticeship reform 2017: What do we know so far?

Four months ago I sat in the Palace of Westminster listening to an FE Week debate which featured a number of leading figures within the learning and skills sector air their views on the proposed reforms to apprenticeship funding, delivery and assessment.

The outcome of that debate was that no one was any clearer on the detail of the proposed reforms and many were concerned that the changes were ill conceived and badly planned.

Since that debate, Tribal has delivered a number of apprenticeship reform events attended by providers, employers and sector stakeholders, and featuring a variety of guest speakers. These events have been designed to inform, provide insight and opinion from within the sector, offer a platform for stakeholders to discuss the proposed changes, and to highlight how Tribal are responding to the apprenticeship reforms. New information has been announced by government since the debate in May, and our stakeholder events have provided a useful platform for gauging the responses of providers and employers.

Undoubtedly, in 2017 the relationship between providers and employers will change beyond all recognition and the proposed new funding models will present a significant operational challenge to providers. That said, it is clear that the changes will also bring opportunity across the sector. Some providers have already set out and pursued aggressive strategies to sign up large employers and secure funds for new standards. However, as we have seen from the recent CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey, some employers (34%) have no strategy for the levy and are planning on absorbing the 0.5% as a business tax.

Although the apprenticeship levy has polarised opinion in some cases, broadly speaking the providers and stakeholders who have attended our events have expressed their support for the idea. However, there are clear concerns about how the levy will be implemented.  

"The implementation of the proposed reforms has been marred by a perfect storm of political events."

One common theme of discussion is that the implementation of the proposed reforms has been marred by a perfect storm of political events. A Brexit vote triggered a change in key government personnel, and brought about a new challenge for the government to provide reassurance to large employers that their business was still better in Britain. Alongside this, government was keen to reiterate that plans for an employer levy would still go ahead.

The proposed changes to funding are just one aspect of the reforms – the impact of other significant changes, such as the move from frameworks to standards and the unresolved issue of end point assessment, was equally worrying to the stakeholders who attended our events. 

For example, there are already learners undertaking new standards with no defined end point assessment – this presents a very real and significant issue.

The recent guidance has also raised some significant questions around:

  • Proportion of central 16-18 funding and the 'exclusion' of uplift factors
  • Low level of funding rate bands
  • Question marks over STEM priorities 
  • Acceptable Ofsted grade 4 provision as long as apprenticeship delivery is grade 3 or higher 
  • An ever-increasing register of providers leading to significant administrative overheads
  • A short consultation window with no guarantee of amendments

"What is critical to note is that these questions have not been raised out of pure objection"

The above points represent only a small number of new question marks raised by all those affected by the apprenticeship reforms. What is critical to note is that these questions have not been raised out of pure objection, but out of concern that the existing apprenticeship system that delivers such great benefit to people across society will be changed with no forethought of the impact on the most important part of that system – the learner. As the consultation window closed on 5th September, all of those who have presented their views wait with baited breath to see if any amendments or clarity to existing proposals will be delivered.

Tribal remain committed to meeting the changing needs of the sector and we will continue to deliver events to engage with providers, employers and sector stakeholders to understand how they are adapting their business to meet the challenges that 2017 will bring. We would like to hear from all those affected by the changes and how you see this impacting your business needs around MIS and e-portfolio.

If you would like further information about the apprenticeship reforms and our responses to these please click below to download our free guide 'Apprenticeship Reform: Preparing for the New World".

Free Apprenticeship Reform Guide

Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to discuss any of the points raised or if you would like to attend any of our future events.

James Hill

James Hill

James is a Strategic Partnerships Manager with a wealth of experience in the work-based learning and skills sector, focusing on supporting providers and employers in delivering high quality apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.

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