'Fake' apprenticeships have been allocated over £1.2 billion of levy funding since April 2017 and account for 50 per cent of all the 'apprenticeships' started over this period, according to research by the education think tank EDSK.
03 February 2020 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Its report says that the government left it to employers to decide what could be labelled an apprenticeship despite several recognised international definitions being freely available. Some employers have "exploited this weakness in the reforms by inappropriately labelling training courses as 'apprenticeships'" the think tank claims.
EDSK says the "swift disappearance of the funds raised by the levy is the direct result of the dilution of the apprenticeship brand caused by the rapid emergence of 'fake apprenticeships'".
They add that this has made the apprenticeship 'brand' "a meaningless concept, such is the prevalence of the inappropriate rebadging and relabelling of existing training courses by some employers and universities".
The report's authors contend that there is a "looming prospect of a significant overspend on apprenticeships in the coming months", which meant the Treasury and the Department for Education had to "enact major changes to make the apprenticeships programme financially viable".
It contends that government ministers have been "reticent to intervene as they continued to hope that employers and training providers would find a way to make the apprenticeship levy succeed".
But the report cites evidence from the past two years showing that this approach has failed. EDSK argues that the government's deliberations on the future of the levy and the apprenticeships programme as a whole must include "reducing overall expenditure in the context of building a better, more sustainable and more ambitious education and skills system".
It puts forward recommendations that it states are a "credible, evidence-based package of reforms that can bring down the cost of delivering apprenticeships while still supporting the drive towards delivering world-class technical education in England as well as creating a productive workforce to boost the economy".
Report is 'misleading'
Adam Baker, director of facilities service provider ABM UK, said: "While the report is damning, it's sadly not surprising. From the start, the levy has been more about upskilling than apprenticeships and herein lies the issue. It's a case of renaming or rethinking.
"It's vital that the reputation of the levy is protected because the spirit of it is something industry is desperate for: to do this it needs to be reworked to ensure goal posts are clear. For the FM industry and many others which rely on technical skills, the levy needs to at least in part force businesses to look at ways of attracting young people."
But Sara Roberts, the learning delivery director at apprenticeship provider Avado, calls the report "misleading".
"While undoubtedly, some employers will attempt to play the system to pay low wages without offering any real training, this is a small minority," says Roberts.
"The levy has in all likelihood reduced the numbers of these apprenticeships, as there are many new requirements set by the levy including 12-month minimum, 20 per cent out-of-office training and an end-point assessment for any scheme funded by the levy."
Roberts believes the report's suggested solution to 'poor-quality' courses would worsen many of the issues they identify in the report, preventing many young people and lower-skilled workers from accessing this vital educational pathway.
Roberts also adds that the report comes just two years into the introduction of the levy; with courses running for a minimum of 12 months, and many up to 18 months or more. "It is therefore impossible," she says, "for any long-term analysis to have been conducted, or even for a solid amount of raw data to be available."
A Department for Education spokeswoman commented: "Our reforms mean apprenticeships are better quality, lasting for a minimum of 12 months with at least 20 per cent off-the-job training. In 2017 we introduced legislation so training cannot be called an apprenticeship unless it meets those basic criteria and the minimum quality requirements set by us.
"The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education approves all apprenticeship standards to ensure they meet high-quality requirements."
According to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) "new, high-quality standards by the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year" have been set. To further protect the quality of apprenticeships, any organisation offering one, or a subcontractor working on their behalf, must be registered on the DfES's list of approved providers, added only once they have met its standards.
There have been 1.9 million (1,888,690) apprenticeship starts since May 2015.
What the report recommends
INTRODUCING A WORLD-CLASS DEFINITION OF AN 'APPRENTICESHIP'
- Recommendation 1: The Department for Education should introduce a new definition of an 'apprenticeship' that is benchmarked against the best apprenticeship systems in the world.
- Recommendation 2: The Department for Education should restrict the use of the term 'apprenticeship' to training at Level 3 only.
SETTING A NEW VISION AND OBJECTIVE FOR THE LEVY
- Recommendation 3: The apprenticeship levy should be renamed the 'Technical and Professional Education Levy' and all work-based learning from Level 4 to Level 7 should be renamed 'Technical and Professional Education' (TPE).
- Recommendation 4: Bachelor's degrees and master's-level courses that have been labelled as 'apprenticeships' should be excluded from the scope of the TPE levy.
- Recommendation 5: The existing co-payment rate of 5 per cent for apprenticeships should be replaced by a tiered co-payment rate for all TPE programmes from Levels 3 to 6, starting at 0 per cent co-payment for apprenticeships at Level 3 up to a 75 per cent co-payment for Level 6 programmes.
REVISING THE FUNDING AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
- Recommendation 6: The current system of 30 'funding bands' from £1,500 to £27,000 should be replaced by five 'price groups' for apprenticeships at Level 3 and higher-level TPE programmes.
- Recommendation 7: The 10 per cent 'top-up' invested by government in the HMRC digital accounts of levy-paying employers should be withdrawn.
- Recommendation 8: Ofsted should be made the sole regulator for any apprenticeships and technical and professional education funded by the new TPE levy, including provision in universities.
IWFM is working to further develop facilities management apprenticeships.
National Apprenticeship Week 2020 is 3-7 February