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Apprenticeship funding cut plans set for u-turn

Some good news for apprenticeships, controversial plans made by the government to cut apprenticeship funding rates for young people in deprived areas are going to be reconsidered. It is understood that the Skills Funding Agency has made a substantial effort to address the rate cuts in their final plans, due for publication later this month including reconsidering apprenticeship cuts.

There was growing anger from politicians, employers and apprenticeship providers in recent months after analysis from FE Week showed that funding for 16-18 year olds in some of England’s poorest areas could be cut by up to 50% from 1st May 2017. FE Week launched a campaign called #SaveOurApprenticeships which was launched at the Houses of Parliament last week and would prove a huge success if budget cuts were changed.

This development comes at a time where at 2:30pm earlier today, a number of the most senior civil servants involved with further education and skills were preparing to answer questions before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. A key witness was Sir Martin Donnelly, who is now permanent secretary for the Department of International Trade, but headed-up the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills until June this year. Other figures set to face questions were Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary for the Department for Education, David Hill, director of apprenticeships at the Department for Education, and Peter Lauener, Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency.

They were likely to face questions over the findings of a damning report from the NAO, published last month, which highlighted a number of failings over apprenticeship reform planning. It urged the Department for Education to “do more to understand how employers, training providers and assessment bodies may respond to ongoing reforms, and develop robust ways of reacting quickly should instances of market abuse emerge.”

The hearing comes after Robert Halfon made his first appearance at Commons education questions since he became apprenticeships and skills minister in July. He was accused of dodging questions from the shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden and Mary Glindon, Labour MP for North Tyneside, on what assessment had been made of the potential effect of the Department for Education’s proposed changes to apprenticeship funding rates.

He was only willing to say: “We’ve continued to engage with employers and providers and we plan to publish the final policy shortly.”

Mr Halfon also got his figures wrong, telling the House: “We will be spending more than double by 2020 – £2.5bn extra on apprentices.”

What was meant by an “extra” £2.5bn was checked with the Department for Education, as it contradicted the government’s previous projection that the total levy yield in England would be £2.5bn by 2019/20 – which will be a £1bn increase from the current £1.5bn spending.

A Department for Education spokesperson admitted that “The minister worded this incorrectly. It came out incorrectly – the word extra should not have been added”.

Watch this space for more updates on what the SFA plan to do.

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