Apprenticeship providers rail against Level 3 impasse

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Training providers say they have lost faith in the Government to deliver the Level 3 apprenticeship standard – which has still not been produced five years after work on it started.

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In what is thought to be the longest delay for any standard in any sector, the Level 3 has not appeared because the assessment plan, a version of which was in place last September, has still not been signed off by the Institute for Apprenticeships.

Hawk Training’s operations manager Clare Craig said, ‘We hear that news is coming and then nothing [happens] and months roll on and on’, adding that there was a ‘lack of confidence in the sector in ever getting a solution to the issues and a standard actually released'.

Chris Baker, finance director of training provider Crackerjack, said, ‘In 2017 we were told we had to continue to deliver the old framework, but there would be this brand spangly new well-funded standard to deliver in the future.

‘We are desperate for the new standard because we are being told it will provide between £5,000 and £6,000 funding. All we are doing is keeping going until the standard appears. It would make a massive difference to us.’

The new standards are funded at a higher rate than the existing apprenticeship frameworks. Cuts to funding for the existing childcare apprenticeship framework in May 2017 left the sector with a 61 per cent to 37 per cent per-apprentice drop from £6,351 to £2,500-£4,000, depending on the age of the apprentice.

The loss of funding meant the outstanding-rated Crackerjack, which has maintained its success rates of over 90 per cent, had to make four members of staff redundant and make class sizes bigger (from 12 to 20 per group). It estimates that it is now training three to four fewer apprentices per month than two years ago and has not taken any 19+ Level 3 apprentice for the past six months because it only receives funding for half of the delivery cost.

Mr Baker added, ‘It just is completely ridiculous. The number of young people we get that turn 19 while they are training that want to move into childcare - we have to say you can study that but nobody will take you because they will have to pay [the extra].

‘The government has no interest in social mobility and people getting on the first rung of the ladder. As far as we are concerned the government are not interested in the childcare sector - it can’t be important to them if they have let it go on for this long.’

A 'perfect storm'

Other changes to apprenticeship rules have also had a detrimental impact, according to People and Business Development’s Janet Dawson.

Ms Dawson said ‘There has been a perfect storm with apprenticeships: the upfront contributions, the 20 per cent off-the-job training rule, which is a real issue when it comes to ratios, and the grade C English and maths minimum requirement which came in with EYE.

I would say Level 3 apprenticeship numbers have dropped across the board – for us by about a fifth - but they've been replaced by learners funding their qualification themselves.’

However, she added, ‘At the moment the funding band is low so employers find the contributions more affordable, whereas when the funding band changes to be higher, they might be more put off by the cost. They are also familiar with how we deliver the childcare apprenticeships currently, as are we, and when standards are brought in, it will introduce a lot of unknowns.’

The Chancellor announced in his Spring Statement that the upfront contributions that non-levy paying employers put towards apprenticeships will be reduced from 10 per cent to 5 per cent from April, with the Government paying the remaining 95 per cent, following a drop in the numbers of apprenticeships taking place across all sectors.

Apprenticeships have been a fraught issue in the early years sector, with two trailblazer groups having come and gone since work on the Level 3 standard began in 2014. The last group was chaired by Fay Gibbin of Busy Bees who quit after saying the process was not employer-led. She is understood to be continuing trying to get the Level 3 finalised, while a separate trailblazer group has started working on standards at levels 5 and 6.

An Institute for Apprenticeships spokesman said, 'We sympathise with anyone affected adversely while the childcare sector waits for final approval of the standard. However, our priority is to ensure this apprenticeship meets the rigorous required standards. Good progress is being made with this, and our focus remains on supporting employers involved in the process so approval can be achieved as quickly as possible.'

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