The process for application to the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers has changed, again. This time the move came almost overnight, with little notification to the employers, would-be providers and learners whose journeys it will potentially restrict.
On the partial reopening of the register via the Exceptions Process (Covid-19 and Brexit) in May 2021, new providers have been able to secure a place on the register by proving they were essential to the national effort. Whilst again limited, this at least was faster than the ordinary service of the ESFA and provided a fathomable, market competition compliant, opportunity for new blood in the sector.
The latest rules are mind-blowingly bureaucratic; limit the choice for the employer and learner of quality providers, waste employers’ time to spend their levy and destroy creativity and innovation in apprenticeship curriculum, content and delivery.
The latest iteration requires an employer to advertise that they would like a provider to deliver their provision in a requisite standard for a total of 42 days. (It would be fascinating to understand how the ESFA arrived at 42 days). If there are no existing providers to deliver or develop the provision, the employer will need to nominate a provider to be invited to apply for the register. If the ESFA approves this request, then the provider will be invited and have 30 days to complete the application. The ESFA will then take at least 12 weeks to review the application (although we all no-doubt remember the “great wait of 2019”). Note also that this only impacts potential private independent training providers and not colleges.
All in all, this process is 6 months long, leaving the employer with 18 months to spend their levy pot before it is lost. The employer is likely to be faced with a choice: lose their levy, or, accept a provider of poor quality and innovation to deliver the provision.
The new rules will no doubt reduce the number of applications to the ESFA, but at what cost to the sector? The cost to purchase a RoATP provider will no doubt be increased but a huge entry barrier for innovation has been erected.
The only output of this latest twist in the journey to “level up” is that competition for quality and innovation in the sector is all but removed. Think of this another way – had an existing provider not been admitted to the register prior to the register closing, that provider would not now be considered for apprenticeship delivery. But why? Nothing but a timing consideration, rather than, as it should be, a quality of education consideration. This begs the question of the motive for restricting the register and one might ask, does this breach UK Competition Law?
Authors: Pamela Smith and Will Lobb.