Apprenticeship levy will push school budgets to ‘breaking point’, unions warn

The NAHT, NUT and ATL raise concerns about the impact of charge, and call for small maintained schools to be exempt

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Three education unions have come together to warn that the government’s apprenticeship levy will push school budgets to “breaking point”.

The warning from the NAHT headteachers’ union and the NUT and ATL teaching unions comes on the day that the apprenticeship levy takes effect.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said that schools were already having to deal with “real-terms cuts as budgets remain static and costs rise”.

“Today, as yet another cost is imposed on schools in the form of the apprenticeship levy, school budgets will be pushed further towards breaking point,” he said.

The levy is designed to pay for more than 3 million new apprenticeships.

Employers will have the opportunity to draw down money they have contributed to fund apprenticeship training, in a move designed to encourage more employers to take on apprentices. 

In order to protect smaller organisations, the charge is only supposed to cover employers with a paybill of £3 million or more.

But while small academies are exempt because of the rule, small maintained schools may still be hit because local authorities will have to pay the levy and are expected to pass the cost on to the schools themselves.

Mr Hobby called for the government to think again about the levy’s reach.

“As a first step, the government must ensure maintained schools are given the same exclusions from the levy as those offered to standalone academies,” he said.

'Another unavoidable cost'

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, said schools were facing “another unavoidable cost” at a time when their budgets were “so stretched” that many had already been forced to ask parents for money.

Mary Bousted, the ATL’s general secretary, said clarity about the impact on maintained schools and communications to heads and governors had been “too little, too late”.

She also questioned whether schools had “enough appropriate roles for apprentices” to be able to “recoup" their levy contributions. 

Earlier this week, Ms Bousted said planned teaching apprenticeships could end up being “exploitative” if schools used them as cheap replacements for qualified teaching staff.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The levy will take our investment in quality apprenticeships to £2.5 billion in England by 2020 and will mean that more young people get the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity. 

“No school that pays the levy will lose out if they take advantage of the opportunity to reinvest the money in high-quality apprenticeship training."

She added: “We will support all employers, including schools, to ensure they benefit from the quality training that the levy offers.”

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