Issue 900, 14 November 2018


Happy Birthday to us!!!

900 weeks of Countdown, over 900 members, and hopefully over 900 apprenticeship starts this month, although it is looking less and less likely as we still (incredibly) are waiting for the date the 5% SME contribution will start – nevertheless, plenty to celebrate, and some wonderful support from a whole range of people and organisations.

I have to thank our staff, board and members for making AELP what it is. As one of the “older” founding fathers said – what a transformation from when ALP started with 10 providers and a CEO working in his front room at home. Countdown 800 in December 16 seems a long long time ago! At the end of that edition I said “So Happy Birthday Countdown and I wonder who will be writing the edition 1000 in 4 years’ time!!” Well that time has halved now and I am still here!!

But we still have many battles to fight for the good of young, people, adults, employers and our members. We had another commentator this week saying the following:

“Unfortunately the skills and education sector did not benefit much from the Philip Hammond’s fiscal loosening. All Philip Hammond has done is to cut the apprenticeship contributions for small and medium employers by half, and allow for levy paying employers to transfer up to 25% for apprenticeship training within their supply chains.”

I was at The Global Apprenticeship Network conference yesterday. There was a general buzz about the 25% transfer and the reduction to 5% (still no date) (sorry, I forgot I mentioned that already!!) and the £700m package. There was also an excitement about moving learning and training out of the classroom and workshop, and in to the workplace – an enthusiasm from the levy payers, SMEs and possibly most importantly, the apprentices. So investing in apprenticeships seems to be a sound thing and supported by those who believe in vocational learning. A very positive debate about apprenticeships and also very positive about the system England had set up overall. A lot of conversation about the importance of delivery in SMEs generally, and specifically working in groups and working with the supply chain seen as a breeding ground of talent for large employers, but also how large employers expertise can be shared with their supply chain through supporting apprenticeship programmes.

This was an audience from the UK, but also around the world who believe in apprenticeships. What was really refreshing was firstly the positive tide of support for apprenticeships and wider work-based learning, along with the belief that this was the core solution to the skills issues in many many countries (incidentally, see the report below about AELP’s involvement in the developing Cypriot apprenticeship system). Again there was a clear message about appropriate flexible employer supported off the job and on the job training – not abandoning it, but allowing flexibility.

Probably the most refreshing for me was that the majority of those at the conference didn’t carry the burden of a government report some years ago written by a somewhat discredited individual, nor were they fighting a raging bias of a few senior officials in the past who believed that providers (intermediaries in international language) and assessment organisations were the devil’s spawn. It was nice to be in an environment where it was clear that the expertise of these organisations was valued and actually working together gave a world-leading solution. I think officials are starting to get this now – but there is still a little way to go before everyone listens to those who might have some expertise in delivery, assessment and costing programmes!!

Some other little gems from the conference. Millennials have a preference for pets rather than children (can you blame them? Only kidding children - no, you still can’t have a pet) so there is actually a talent supply problem emerging in many developed countries. It was agreed that the CEOs’ conversation around the world had shifted from availability of finance / capital to the availability of talented human resource, and that is why skills and apprenticeships are so important. Along with that there is definitely a shift from graduate recruitment to a blend of apprenticeship and graduate. Someone talked about the “coolification” of apprenticeships – being in a job, learning and applying that learning – it is the way to learn and earn, and it is important that message gets through to all ages.

Digital featured in a lot of the discussion – the opportunities for digital delivery, but more importantly there did seem to be agreement that every apprentice should be getting relevant digital input in their learning (including within the 20% off the job). Incredibly that doesn’t exist at the moment, and while employers may be saying there is no digital content in a current role, we are letting down every apprentice and stifling their future opportunities if they don’t have a sound understanding of digital relating to their occupation. I am not saying a separate functional skill – just every employer identifying what skills are needed now and will be needed in the future. I was actually stunned to hear large employers say we shouldn’t be deceived – a large proportion of young people don’t even have the most basic skills (email, spreadsheets etc) so there is still a need for this for many.

There’s so much more I could add – progression and pathways really important (no surprise there) and finally an interesting viewpoint (although we weren’t given the evidence from the research) that two of the worst predictors of success in a job are actually previous experience and academic achievement. I am sure it is a little more complicated – but what came out during the day was the importance of skills and an ability to undertake a range of tasks – not always demonstrated through previous experience and qualifications. If these are so important, then we need to ensure that we are able to identify them, teach where appropriate and assess them.

Moving on to the more mundane - AELP has been saying for a long time that the data systems used by the ESFA are a little fragile when recording success (Traineeships still being the number one example of the measurement in no way matching the policy intent). As we shift more and more from frameworks to standards, things like the QAR (Qualification Achievement Report) become less useful – indeed, incredibly dangerous. Furthermore, we know that measuring providers through the completion of EPAs is no longer appropriate as it is out of their hands. Ice pack on your head and read this summary from one of our members about the challenge during the transition phase ……

“I was stunned to see that the standards have been counted as separate programmes to apprenticeship frameworks when calculating MPL. Any standards completion rates are entirely misrepresentative until the entirety of provision is on the standard. All of our standards delivery for last contract year falls below MLP because we have not had enough completers to start to offset early leavers - it's a simple fact that anyone who knows apprenticeships will understand (i.e. in the first year of a new programme with a new end assessment methodology you will have all of the early leavers you would usually have but would inevitably experience delays in completions).”

So another period of trying to explain why the data is wrong – let’s hope the ESFA and Ofsted make some very clear statements about how they will basically ignore the data!!

There was an excellent article in this week’s FE Week by Stephen Howlett – Chair of LSEC (London South East Colleges) talking about governance and the need to be innovative and change the way things are done – click here to read it. This is spot on – we can’t keep doing the same; the FE system must become more flexible, responsive and innovative not only because we will constantly be asked to provide more for less, but also that is the expectation of the employers and those being trained. Yes, it would be great to have more money so we can meet the quality agenda – but as providers / colleges we all have a part to play to offer world leading innovative training and development at the best value possible.

In summary at the end of the article Stephen says,

“The flexibility of the government’s regulatory framework is undoubtedly sympathetic to this. It allows colleges to be innovative with their governance and gives them the ability to create bespoke models that are fit for purpose.
Ultimately it’s courage that’s needed to make change. It’s far easier for a board just to carry on as it is, because change will inevitably create a level of uncertainty.
There is a saying, however: ‘if you do not grasp change by the hand, it will grasp you by the throat’. Put simply, college boards need to be brave.
Innovation is needed for college survival and for innovation to happen, governance structures simply must move with the times”

I’ll repeat again that I understand the concerns about funding and the challenges of leadership in the sector but the sector needs to take charge of its own destiny. It has to demonstrate what it can deliver for the funding available and what the alternatives in structure, approach and funding would enable. None of us can keep trying to do it the “same way” with the public sector funding environment we are facing and I believe will continue to face – it won’t ever be like how it used to be again!!!.

And of course there is still bad behavior in the sector that needs to be exposed and challenged – and I don’t care what kind of provider it is. It is even more important for the FE sector as a whole we demonstrate we are strong well governed trusted sector. I am still getting emails like this every week:

“I thought I would update you on some current activity in the sector that I am dealing with - a subcontractor of a large college and the college is taking a set 20% management fee and is also taking the 20% fee from the 16-18 additional payment (£1000). I am struggling to see why the college (Main Provider) deems it acceptable to take 20% of this additional payment. The college has also not issued a 2018/19 contract to their subcontractor and are not in any form taking up any ‘delivery’ of the apprenticeship, including missing payment to the subcontractor by many months.

I am also working with another private training provider where the main provider (a large college) is also taking a 20% cut from the 16-18 additional payment, and is also holding back 20% of the funding to pay for the end-point assessment. I have got the actual prices from the EPAO and these are 13% and 8.8% of the Standards. The college now owes the training provider in excess of £26k for the remaining of the percentage that they have been holding back”

Until this sort of stuff is sorted out there will be no trust between providers and no trust of the sector as a whole if this is the way they behave – we should be brave and as a sector start challenging this behaviour publicly.

Anne Milton said in parliament yesterday “It is important that young people have a grounding in English and maths. I know this is difficult for some young people, and we are doing a great deal to improve the teaching of maths. Where people have failed after all those years at school, we cannot just go on doing the same thing. We have the opportunity to offer functional skills, which offers those young people an alternative way of getting a good qualification….”

Was that her announcement to scrap the resits policy? – we will have to check with her!!! And let’s not forget the funding of functional skills in apprenticeships – no one yet has been able to give me a reason or justify why these learners are being discriminated against – maybe I need to start an online petition!!

So 900 Countdowns – one of my loyal readers suggested I try and use 900 words – or preferably 900 characters – all I can say is I tried!!! See you at 1000!

Mark Dawe | Chief Executive | AELP


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Countdown Issue 900

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