Flexi Job Apprenticeships and the Re-Birth of ATA’s

So, the DFE have now interpreted the pronouncement of the Chancellor within the recent budget to consult on the launch of Flexi Job Apprenticeships and another register of approved providers, replacing the existing ATA register. In return there is the magnificent sum of £7m available and a likely chase to the bottom for the myriad of providers looking to apply, all to be done by January 2022 – or more likely with the inevitable ‘over-subscription excuse’ by the ESFA – further delays. 

Let me get this right, 1 year to create a register and to allocate £7m of funding. Have the DFE or ESFA ever heard of value for money. I spent years working for the Audit Commission where our focus was on the 3E’s – economy, efficiency and effectiveness. It’s a pity that the NAO apparently don’t bother to review much of these processes and schemes. 

At promote-ed, there aren’t many days that go by without a provider calling us in distress – being under investigation by the ESFA, under threat of contract termination. The strategy is pretty clear – starve the provider of cash whilst they are under investigation and cause them to go into liquidation so the ESFA can’t be accused of terminating their contracts. Nearly 200 PTP’s have had their contracts terminated in the past two years. You might ask why this is relevant to the subject of Flexi Job Apprenticeship and ATA’s – well only last week we received a call from a provider who is being ‘closed’ by the ESFA because they were recruiting staff employed by a umbrella agency (who were rightly the employer and using their Levy funds) but the ESFA said ‘they aren’t really the employer after all and are ineligible.’ 

Now as someone old enough to know why ATA’s were set up in the first place – to primarily help the Public Sector recruit Apprentices but didn’t want them on their head count – most common being the NHS – it does beg the question as to why we need a new register, a new set of funding rules and a completely new approach – the white paper talks about simplifying the approach to funding, but the first consultation since indicates yet more complication. 

As an employer, I now have to deal with another register of approved providers, who may not be a provider that I have an existing relationship with, those providers who aren’t approved with not support the new model resulting in yet more confusion for employers in an already complex, murky world of Apprenticeship provision. 

I have spent my life promoting Apprenticeships – all my kids did an Apprenticeship as well as myself but in the past six months I have experienced in many different sectors I operate in, employers being turned off by Apprenticeship provision – it is confusing, complex, lacking relevance to the modern world in which they operate, needs a root and branch review and is far too bureaucratic, especially for employers wanting to ‘bounce back’ from COVID. Simplicity is needed.  

I would argue that there are an existing set of rules and flexibility in the system to introduce flexi job apprenticeships now! – why does it need to be delayed by a year and we certainly don’t need yet another register. Invite the existing ATA’s to renew their registrations if they still exist and remain interested or indeed why not use the RoATP refresh to extend the criteria to include applications to be part of this new scheme. After all, many of the questions that will be asked will duplicate those in any procurement regime. 

What is lacking in my humble opinion is a set of behaviours within the DFE / ESFA that allow providers to flourish for supporting the educational needs of employers – you can’t go from closing down providers because of challenging employment status of real people and Apprenticeships on the one hand to having a new scheme of flexi apprentices that can move between up to 5 – 6 jobs during their 12-month programme. 

Let’s go back to the basics, does the learner exist?, does the learner know the programme they are on ?, are they eligible to participate in terms of eligibility for funding ?, are they progressing ? and do they achieve ? – those are the five key tests and included in that, why shouldn’t self-employed people be eligible – are they not employed because they have been entitled to support from Government during this pandemic and why shouldn’t they be able to do a L3 Management Programme in exactly the same way as others in the same sector, but simply employed differently? Partners in LLP’s are not employed and indeed are self-employed but the ESFA turn a blind eye to this when it suits. A simple, fair, unbiased and holistic approach to the job market is needed. 

Get the existing systems and processes right – let’s not invent yet more confusion. 

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