Small community schools will be forced to pay the government’s apprenticeship levy when it comes into effect next year despite assurances that smaller employers would be exempt, it has emerged.
The move, which has been branded the “most bizarre unintended consequence in education policy”, comes at a time when schools are facing significant real terms cuts to their budgets.
The government confirmed in August that it would press ahead with plans to introduce a levy to help pay for more than 3m new apprenticeships.
The policy was designed to only include employers with a paybill of £3m or more, in an attempt to protect smaller organisations from being hit by additional costs.
The levy, which will charge bodies 0.5 per cent of their annual paybill, is likely to hit most multi-academy trusts, as they pay their own wages.
But according to Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, writing in his weekly column for TES, small community schools will have to pay the levy as well.
“Under what I can only describe as the most bizarre unintended consequence in education policy that I’ve ever heard – that some small maintained schools will be hit by this," Mr Simons writes.
"Due to the frankly archaic and, in many ways, meaningless position that the local authority still processes the wages for community schools, and remains technically the employer of staff, it seems that such schools are considered part of the same ‘business’ as the local authority, and are as such in the scope of the levy,” he writes.
Mr Simons adds: “It is difficult to emphasise quite how messed up this is.”
The Department for Education states that it will be the local authority that will pay the levy, but as Mr Simons points out councils will merely use the money they top slice from schools to pay the extra cost, meaning schools will lose out.
Upon announcing the apprenticeship levy, skills minister Robert Halfon described it being a “change-maker”.
It was intended that employers too small to pay the levy, would pay for just 10 per cent of training costs for apprenticeships. Those with 50 employees or fewer would not have to pay anything towards training costs of 16-18 apprentices.
In a statement, Mr Halfon said: "The apprenticeship levy will boost our economic productivity, while increasing the country’s skills base and giving millions a step on the ladder of opportunity.
“In the majority of cases, local authorities will be responsible for paying the levy in the community schools they maintain and we expect these schools to have full access to funding for apprenticeship training. We will support all employers, including schools and local authorities, in using levy funds to invest in quality apprenticeships.”
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said: "The government should ensure this cost does not have to be borne from school budgets. If the levy does have to be paid from any school or academy budget, then the government should increase their funding to compensate. We cannot afford yet more cuts in school funding."