Support apprentices with online learning, urges government despite criticism

A sector body has warned that the government has not gone far enough to protect apprentices

Employers should encourage training providers to deliver online learning and assessments for apprentices during the coronavirus crisis, the government has said.

But one leading sector body has criticised the government’s plans for apprentices, warning that they risk undermining providers and unnecessarily disrupting learners.

The government has announced a range of measures to support apprentices who are affected by the national shutdown. All education providers, except universities, have been instructed to shut by the prime minister, and only key workers may leave their house to work.

As part of its measures, the government has made it possible for employers and training providers to initiate a ‘break in learning’ for apprentices for more than a four-week period and delay end-point assessments (EPA).

Despite these reassurances, the sector has not responded positively to the government’s proposals. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers said the support does not include many independent training providers (ITP) that support almost seven in 10 apprenticeships. Although further education (FE) colleges have received a funding guarantee, the AELP say these providers only train around 25% of apprentices.

In the first instance, the government is “encouraging and supporting” employers and training and assessment providers to use distance learning tools to ensure apprentices do not experience a break in training. A prolonged break in training would lead to a loss of government funding.

Existing rules mean employers and colleges can continue to claim government funding if an apprenticeship is interrupted for less than four weeks.

In the event an apprenticeship is interrupted for longer than four weeks, employers and colleges can now initiate longer breaks in training, but won’t be funded for any break in learning longer than four weeks.

Apprentices might also have to initiate a break in learning if their new working arrangements, like working from home, do not support their apprenticeship.

EPAs can be delayed and assessment timeframes can be extended if apprentices are unable to finish their qualification in time.

Colleges can apply for wage support from the government if they lose income because apprentices suspend learning. Employers and ITPs can apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if apprentices and staff have been furloughed.

If employers make apprentices redundant, training providers are expected to help trainees locate suitable employment to support their studies. If apprentices are placed on unpaid leave or are laid off, they may qualify for Universal Credit.

The AELP said the government’s support for apprentices was not good enough and its measures would not support the sector. “Any further delay on a funding support package for apprenticeships and ITPs is totally unacceptable,” said AELP chief executive Mark Dawe.

“How are providers expected to implement the proposed flexibilities in today’s statement if they have vastly reduced income coming in? It is now a battle for survival. The majority of provider staff will be furloughed which means they will not be available to support the training of apprentices and other learners.

“On apprenticeships, the statement goes further and lays down terms for clawback of funding from independent training providers if the crisis means that apprenticeships can’t be completed. Given that it is not their fault that they cannot gain access to apprentices or assess them, this is beyond the pale.

“Unless the government urgently rethinks its stance that it has had two weeks to think about, we are likely to see the start of the collapse of the training and assessment sector over the next week unless action is taken on funding, and those employers who want training and assessment to continue will have no place to go when this is over.”

Simon Ashworth, a chief policy officer at AELP, said many providers were continuing to support apprentices, despite the government’s announcement.

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