The pace of apprenticeship reform continues steadily, with the recent relaunch of the non-levy apprenticeships tender. Following a stalled attempt earlier in the year, which was hugely oversubscribed, the Department for Education (DfE) has taken a breather, reset the clock and issued a new bidding round.
The admission that the first round didn’t go to plan has been anticipated for a while, but it shows some acceptance from the DfE and ESFA that the first round was flawed. There are also some critical differences between the tenders which may have some bearing on who gets a contract or not.
Putting the delay into to context, this means that current apprenticeship funding for providers is extended until December 2017 with the new contracts for non-levy delivery starting from January 2018.
One of the big questions is whether this change in approach will really make a difference to who gets funding. At present there are 1679 providers on the main route (levy provision) of the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). All of these will be eligible to apply against the non-levy funding tender, add to that new applicants and we could well see in excess of 2000 apprenticeship providers.
The new requirements cover aspects such as geographical delivery aligned to the 9 ESFA regions, single bidding into each regional funding pot, doubling of the minimum contract value to £200k, removal of the £5m upper contract limit and proportional allocations where the applications outweigh the funds available.
Some of these factors may be seen as arbitrary, such as the increase in the minimum contract value. Some may be seen as positive, such as the upper cap removal. What we don’t know is how all of the changes, as a whole, will affect the make-up of the non-levy provider market. Along with exciting new opportunities to work with new providers, there’s a possibility some great centres may cease to exist.
However it works out, NCFE is committed to supporting our customers in this new landscape. Whether that’s through a dedicated contact, via the sales team, online or through our external verifiers and moderators, we’re here to help. It’s increasingly obvious that the FE and skills sector is having to shoulder more than its fair portion of change. By working together we can share the load and ensure survival and growth are both secured and sustainable.