The apprenticeship funding rules and requirements for 2022/23 have been significantly modified affecting the planning and preparation of all providers. The funding rules are not guidance, they are contractual and should be read in conjunction with the ‘funding agreement’ signed the provider and the Secretary of State.
So why so much change in one year?
With the amount of ESFA audit activity having been reduced as a consequence of Covid in 2020 and 2021, it rather feels like the sector has had 3-years worth of changes introduced all at once. The ‘New Rules’ introduced in 2022/23 are clearly important for providers to take on board – doubly important, in our view, are the rules which have been ‘Clarified’. Some of the clarifications may well arise from audit findings which may well have led the ESFA to conclude that some rules are just not being implemented by providers as intended. In some cases, the clarification of existing rules is effectively giving the sector a second chance.
So where have the main areas of non-compliance been?
By far the most notable area of partial/ non-compliance is the application of RPL&E (the Recognition of Prior Learning and Experience). It’s a complex area but for every provider that makes a mistake in the application of RPL&E there’s another provider that just doesn’t want to apply any form of adjustment for fear of the implications on funding – i.e. some provider’s get it right, some make mistakes and others jump through hoops to circumvent the need to make any kind of funding reduction.
PDSAT reports identify the proportion of a provider’s learners for whom they are claiming the funding band maximum. Perhaps the biggest red flag of all is to see a report which shows that all learners in the ILR are at 100% of the funding band maximum – in truth, it’s about as close as you can get to sending the auditors an invitation to visit.
Non-collection of a full career history, non-collection of a record of all qualifications, no record of a review of the PLR, failure to recognise that someone who was already employed in the role before they started the apprenticeship will almost inevitably have KSBs could all have repercussions during audit.
So, what else should the sector be mindful of when recruiting learners post 1 August 2022?
In our opinion almost all documents will need to be changed and one or two new ones introduced.
When planning training programmes, there are numerous areas where caution should be the watch word. Consistency between RPL&E outcomes and adjustments to the Training Plan, the use of compliant Contracts for Services with employers with an updated OTJ methodology and a compliant breakdown of the TNP1 costs …and the list goes on.
In our view, the most significant area of vulnerability hasn’t been fully recognised by the sector and as a consequence, we are expecting to see an increase in the number of ineligible apprentices returned on ILRs.
The problem should be on the radar of any provider delivering through a cohort model where they are intending to justify no change to the duration of the apprenticeship. Maintaining the duration for cohort delivery is likely to be accepted by the auditor… so what’s the potential problem.
Imagine an apprenticeship programme with the following characteristics:
- Minimum OTJ 320 hours
- Planned OTJ 335 hours
- Cohort based delivery
- The duration can’t be reduced because the delivery model (cohort based)
Four learners are admitted to the programme with their RPL&E adjustment being identified as:
- Apprentice 1 – no hours of RPL&E
- Apprentice 2 – 10 hours of RPL&E
- Apprentice 3 – 20 hours of RPL&E
- Apprentice 4 – 25 hours of RPL&E
The RPL&E hours are not particularly high volume, but even in this example 2 apprentices are ineligible for funding.
Why? – the planned OTJ is 335 hours and as soon as you take 16 hours or more off the plan (without reducing the duration) then the apprentice has planned hours which are below the minimum.
We have already seen several examples where the provider has calculated the minimum OTJ and then set the planned OTJ at that minimum. If there is no adjustment to the duration (i.e., delivery is cohort based), then a single hour of RPL&E will render the programme ineligible for funding.
Lots for providers to think about!
I hope you enjoyed this Blog – should you need support or the reassurance of a Mock Apprenticeship Audit please get in touch.