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Apprenticeship funding cuts, a cause for concern

The proposed funding cuts for apprentices will discriminate against the poorest in society, undermine government social and skills policy and risks national productivity.

In case you missed it, the Government released details on 12 August about Apprenticeship Funding in England from May 2017. This included the simplification of funding bands for different frameworks to allow employers to understand them better. This simplification amounts to a cut in apprenticeship funding and it will have a negative impact on some of the most disadvantaged groups in society - that is the consensus among leading experts in the skills sector.

Matt Garvey, MD of West Berkshire Training Consortium said in TES (read it here) that the cuts are “wrong, pernicious and will be a disaster”. Not only that but they are discriminatory to people of protected ethnic groups and will “undermine not just social mobility but also the generally progressive social policies since the 1990s”.

Nick Linford, in FE Week, did the maths and amply demonstrated the scale of the problem:

“Proposed funding for 16 to 18 year-old apprentices will result in current rates to colleges and training providers being cut by around 30 per cent, rising to over half for those apprentices living in the most deprived areas of central London”

Mark Dawe, CEO of AELP, also said in FE Week:

“For many popular sectors, the proposed rates will undermine the prime minister’s social mobility agenda. In fact, feedback suggests that large numbers of providers will withdraw provision altogether because the rates will not be viable not only in terms of basic delivery but for offering a good quality programme for the employer and the apprentice. All the good work in establishing the apprenticeship brand will quickly become undone.”

And then David Lammy waded into the debate and asked The Prime Minister on Twitter (@DavidLammy) why she is ‘shafting’ the future of young people through these reforms:

“Funding cuts for 16-18 apprentices will be devastating. Why is the Government shafting working class kids?”

FE Week reported in an interview with the former minister that:

“Mr Lammy added the cuts would “hugely undermine” the government’s target to create 3m apprenticeships by 2020, and “entirely contradict” Theresa May’s promise to boost social mobility.”

It may be that the new Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills Robert Halfon had little to do with this and the proposal came as a surprise to him also, that it is in fact simply a policy proposal dreamt up by an economic advisor which needs further refinement.

It certainly does not fit with the rhetoric of our new Prime Minister (as reported in TES) that this Government will support the poorest:

"When it comes to opportunity, we won't entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you."

This message has most recently been underlined by the Prime Minister’s announcement (reported by the BBC) that the Government will conduct a review into how minorities are treated by public services in order to “shine a light on injustices” and to "make this country work for everyone not just a privileged few”.

From our perspective at NOCN this is all very concerning. We provide apprenticeship frameworks and assessments and we are the only AO to hold the Leaders in Diversity accreditation, so we want apprenticeships to succeed and for there to be greater equality, diversity and inclusion in our education system. This proposal shakes us to our core.

Limiting access to opportunity by removing funding for apprentices in disadvantaged areas means the Government is undermining not only our business interests and equality objectives, but its own stated target for a fairer society and stronger economy. We should not sabotage the career aspirations of so many young people for what seems like a plan to reduce admin for civil servants.

Employers can handle financial complexity and readily understand a spread sheet, it is patronising to suggest otherwise. As long as the system makes sense and clearly delivers value where it should for both employers and apprentices, then businesses will get behind it. But the proposed change undermines all this.

This development is deeply worrying and needs to be questioned at all levels to send a clear message to the government that this is wrong. We should be investing more to boost the uptake of apprenticeships by the most disadvantaged, lifting them out of poverty and improving national productivity.

The Skills Minister needs to get a grip on his policy advisors. How on Earth can he deliver the promise of three million apprenticeships by 2020 with this sort of counterproductive policy? He is well known as a supporter of apprenticeships and for actively taking on young people as apprentices in his office to give them better life chances and meaningful careers. Now is the time for Mr Halfon to show his true colours and kick this daft idea out – going full-on to support our apprentices.

Blog written by James Harkness, NOCN Marketing Executive.

Update: 05/09/16 - Three national newspapers have now picked up on this issue, 55 labour MPs have written to the Skills Minister and major employer representatives are raising their concerns. Read the excellent FE Week Expert article from Nick Linford.