ESFA – Bureaucracy, Red Tape and Self-Important Bumbledom

Officialdom will no doubt decide the future of apprenticeship provision and adult skills provision in England, I have been in the educational landscape for over two decades now and have seen many changes, new provision (Standards (is this really new or was it like this back in the late 80’s and early 90’s?)). However, I have never seen so much bureaucracy and red tape as I have the last few years, and it is getting worse – are we in an era of self-important bumbledom in the ESFA?

A recap of certain activities makes for stark reading and if you were to do a full risk review using horizon scanning techniques, then the risk associated for organisations to be a provider of education funded through the ESFA would be extremely high resulting in the crippling of an organisation and often leading to ‘survival mode’.

A bulleted approach, where the list is endless (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • AEB fiasco,
  • Lack of procurement understanding, 
  • Letters to providers to remove from the RoATP due to not following the Conditions of Acceptance – more on this below, 
  • Apprenticeship Rules,
  • Changes to initial assessment, 
  • RoATP refresh time after time,
  • Change of control,
  • No appeal contract,
  • ESFA investigations that take months for small complaints,
  • Lack of empathy of the ESFA to providers and providers staff,
  • Subcontracting debacle,
  • A clear hidden agenda to remove PTP’s.

Over the past three years I have been supporting providers in interpreting the ESFA Rules to ensure success for their business, I am aware of many employers deciding not to take on apprentices due to the huge amount of bureaucracy involved (OTJ, Employer Rules, Levy Transfer etc etc). Moreover, I have supported a raft of providers that have been going through ESFA investigations and have received letters from the ESFA to remove them from the RoATP due to many reasons, but one has come to light more recently that has seen many providers being removed due to “Removal of inactive providers from the register”, as described by the ESFA as:

Any provider that has not actively delivered within a 6 month period may be removed from the register, subject to any appeal, starting from May 2021. No active delivery means within a 6 month rolling period. This change is to ensure employers and apprentices have confidence that providers on the register are active deliverers of good quality training.”

Yes, it can be argued that a provider signing up to these conditions understands this at the start, but we have and still have a global pandemic (COVID-19), I am aware of 3 providers that have received these letters after being accepted onto the register in January 2020 or after January 2020. 

Let’s have a focus on a live example – a provider spent time and money getting onto the RoATP ready to deliver, a global pandemic hits a month after acceptance onto the RoATP and the business has to make a decision – enrol apprentices onto a programme or to focus on the needs of the business and staff at the time of the pandemic. Providers have to follow the legal rights of their business due to Director’s responsibilities, and not against a Condition of Acceptance onto the RoATP. 

Is it right that the ESFA are not taking into account COVID-19 and the huge detrimental effect on businesses and staff? Should the ESFA have a focus on business acumen, as a keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a “business situation” in a manner that is likely to lead to a good and positive outcome for all. A thorough business acumen approach is a vehicle for improving financial performance and leadership development, should this not be a targeted approach and focus for an executive agency of the government?

This is just one live example out of many I can give, I am also aware of a PTP’s undergoing an ESFA investigation due to a complaint, yes, a compliant must be followed and an investigation must happen, but should it take over 4 months to conduct (this is a small provider), the staff morale is low, and the business owners are very concerned about the longevity of their business. Where is the empathy from the ESFA, and where is the business acumen? Furthermore, if this results in contract termination this will result in staff redundancies during a global pandemic and will also result in learners being made to wait for weeks / possibly months to find a new provider. 

Don’t get me wrong though, there are hundreds of incidents where PTP’s create issues etc and this has exacerbated the concern that PTP’s are unfit to deliver against public funds, especially when you look at The Nolan Principles, which is alien to some PTP’s.

So, the ESFA aren’t all to be blame, but a change must happen for the future of funded provision for 16+. 

Just over two weeks ago Peter Marples wrote an article ‘ESFA – Time for Change and Not Just a Moving of the Deckchairs’ where he called for a reform of the ESFA, a change of culture and importantly an appointment that will build trust back into the system. 

Let’s all (all providers and association bodies to the sector) champion this and ensure the focus on the sector by an executive agency of the government is employer / learner centric, has a dedicated approach to understanding business acumen, does not reduce the landscape to a few large PTP’s (bigger doesn’t mean better) and understands the market. 

Join Promote-Ed on our journey to make a desire to make a difference to the education sector through promotion, the sharing of issues and campaigning for a positive change. Let’s all start a campaign to drive for success for the success of learners and employers. 

Patrick Tucker

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