The Department for Education has some way to go before it can demonstrate that the apprenticeships programme is achieving value for money, with numbers of apprenticeships below pre-reform levels, says the National Audit Office.
In its report published earlier this month, the NAO states that since introducing its reforms the Department has improved how it assesses the benefits of the programme. However, it has not set out clearly how it measures whether the programme is boosting economic productivity – the ultimate aim of the programme. It therefore has some way to go before it can demonstrate that resources are being used to best effect.
Many of the key headlines from the report echo opinions that GMLPF members have expressed over the last couple of years, including:
- The average cost of training an apprentice on a standard is around double what was expected by ESFA. This is because employers are opting for greater numbers of higher value standards than was anticipated. This has resulted in fewer starts and increased pressure on the apprenticeship budget. It is highly likely that, without any significant growth in volumes spending on Apprenticeships could rise to £bn per year once frameworks are withdrawn
- The 3m starts target is unlikely to be met. To meet this target the number of apprenticeship starts would need to double from the current baseline which is highly unlikely in the current market
- The Government’s target for widening participation in apprenticeships lacks ambition ie raising participation for those who are SEND. We know participation is low for SEND in Liverpool City Region.
- There has been a steep rise in the proportion of apprenticeships started under the new standards which employers generally consider as an improvement on frameworks
- The introduction of standards and the levy has seen a significant change in the profile and make-up of the apprenticeship programme. There has been a pronounced shift away from lower level apprenticeships to high cost, higher level apprenticeships. There is a sense that larger, corporate entities may be replacing their professional development or in-house training programmes with apprenticeship programmes.
- The report highlights issues with quality including the fact that the ESFA has limited assurance that apprentices are spending 20% or more of their time in off the job training. Furthermore, approximately 25% of training providers in 2016/17 met the criteria for ESFA intervention because their achievement rates fell below national minimum standards.
- The NAO has concerns about the long term sustainability of the programme