Covid-19 and training providers: all you need to know

What support are apprentices, training providers and employers getting from government? Find the latest guidance here

Kate Parker

Coronavirus and apprenticeship training providers: Tes pulls together all the government guidance

The coronavirus pandemic has meant providers have had to stop face-to-face learning, and have also had to deal with apprentices on furlough and made redundant by their employers.

The Department of Education has been issuing guidance for apprenticeship and training providers. We have collated all the latest advice here.

Coronavirus: Seven key changes for apprenticehips

The DfE has taken the following steps to support apprenticeship providers:

  • Introducing flexibilities to allow furloughed apprentices to continue their training, as long as it does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, their employer.
  • Encouraging training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning as far as is practical.
  • Allowing the modification of end-point assessment arrangements, including remote assessments wherever practicable and possible in order to maintain progress and achievement for apprentices.
  • Clarifying that apprentices ready for assessment, but who cannot be assessed due to Covid-19 issues, can have their end-point assessment rescheduled. Apprentices whose gateway is delayed can have an extension to the assessment time frame.
  • Enabling employers and training providers to report and initiate a break in learning, where the interruption to learning due to Covid-19 is greater than four weeks.
  • Clarification on how to record breaks in learning so that funding is not unnecessarily disrupted.
  • Confirming that, where apprentices are made redundant, it is the DfE's ambition to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks.

Business and employee support

The DfE has said that apprentices and their employers, and training and assessment organisations as businesses, are able to access the government’s package of measures to support businesses to withstand the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Details can be found here.

Disruption to training

The DfE is encouraging training provides to make use of distance-learning tools wherever possible and practical. But some apprentices may be unable to attend training, and training providers may be unable to deliver training. This will have a significant knock-on effect on both apprentices and employers, and the DfE has put funding rules in place to help with this. 

If the disruption in learning is:

  • Less than four weeks then neither the employer, nor the training provider, needs to report the interruption, the end-date for the apprenticeship remains the same and there is no change to the payment of funding.
  • More than four weeks then the employers and/or training providers must report a formal break in learning. Where a break in learning is reported, the payment of funding to the training provider will be suspended for the duration of the break in learning.

The DfE has said: “Where breaks in learning are required, it is our goal that apprentices are able promptly to resume their apprenticeship and continue to successful completion of end-point assessment.

“Funding rules currently state that a break in learning must be initiated by the apprentice. Employers and training providers can now, temporarily, also report and initiate a break in learning where the interruption to learning is greater than four weeks.”

Payments to training providers 

The DfE has said that apprenticeship training providers will continue to be paid retrospectively for training they have delivered where they can provide evidence for doing so. This data should be submitted via the monthly ILR submissions, and records retained for compliance and audit checks. 

The department said that the Education and Skills Funding Agency reserves the right to recover funding which was claimed for, and paid to, the training provider, but for which the training provider was found not to be eligible.

Training providers will not receive payments for learners who are on breaks in learning. 

The DfE said that where the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a loss of income due to ceased or reduced delivery on training, training providers should apply for the “the wide range of financial support that HM Treasury has already announced for businesses”.

Training delivering in March and April

March

When training was delivered during March but then suspended before the end of the month, training providers should:

  • Include these learners in their March ILR submission as on programme.
  • Record, retain and submit evidence in the usual way.
  • Record a break in learning in their April ILR submission (the date should be 1 April or later so as not to affect the March payment).
  • Ensure that these learners are not recorded as permanently withdrawn from their apprenticeship, by entering the “completion status” field of the ILR as “6”’, denoting that the learner has temporarily withdrawn from learning due to an agreed break in learning.

Training that could not be delivered in March but that the provider received payment for should be delivered by the end of the apprenticeship. If the apprenticeship does not resume, and the training provider has received payment for training in March, the ESFA reserves the right to recover the payment. 

April

For a break in learning greater than four weeks that begins on or after 1 April:

  • The training provider should report this in their April ILR submission using the last day in learning, or in the month in which the break of learning commenced.
  • The apprenticeship should be "paused" by the employer through the apprenticeship service at the point the break in learning begins. The employer should not stop the apprenticeship through the apprenticeship service as this will prevent it resuming subsequently.

When the apprentice, provider and employer are ready for the apprenticeship to resume, providers should update their ILR data. Training providers will not receive funding payments for apprentices during a break in learning.

During breaks in learning, apprentices do not have to comply with the minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement. When the break in learning ends, and training resumes, the 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement will apply over the remaining amended duration of the apprenticeship.

Disruption to assessment 

The DfE said it was working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofqual and has introduced flexibility to enable apprentices to complete their apprenticeships in the event of disruption to assessment either separately to, or as well as, disruption to training and employment.

The DfE has said: “External Quality Assurance Providers (EQAPs) remain responsible for assuring consistency and quality of assessment. End-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) should engage with EQAPs throughout and agree arrangements in advance where remote assessment replaces face-to-face assessment, or where a simulated environment is to be used. Apprentices who are deemed ready for assessment, and cannot be assessed due to Covid-19-related issues, will be able to have their EPA rescheduled. Where there is a specified time limit for EPA post-gateway, a further pause of 12 weeks is allowable.

“EPAOs may also propose to EQAPs modifications (rather than substitutions) to specified assessment methods provided that they do not compromise quality or the intention of the assessment. The authority for any flexibilities remains with the institute, to whom any modification proposals should be referred.”

Disruption to employment

Employers can furlough apprentices. If they do so, that apprentice can take part in volunteer work or training, which includes apprenticeship off-the-job training.

Where a provider can deliver this training remotely, a furloughed apprentice can continue their apprenticeship when furloughed.

If apprentices are placed on unpaid leave and not furloughed, the apprentice, employer and provider should consider whether a break in learning would be appropriate.

If an apprentice is made redundant, the DfE has said it is its ambition that they will be supported to find alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks. The training provider must support the apprentice to find another employer.

If a significant number of apprentices are made redundant, the ESFA will attempt to provide exceptional practical support to the apprentices and training providers to secure alternative employers for the individuals. 

Audits

The start of any new routine funding audits for post-16 providers as been paused for the duration of lockdown.

The DfE has said that: “Where funding audits and investigations were already in progress, we have sought to complete the work, taking into account providers’ capacity to resolve any issues. We understand the challenges providers face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and have been sensitive to these challenges when contacting providers.

“It may be necessary for the ESFA to contact providers during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to continue to maintain effective oversight and protection of public funds. Where such contact is necessary, we will continue to be sensitive to the challenges providers face as a result of Covid-19.”

Achievement rates

The government has confirmed that it will not be publishing any institution-level qualification achievement rates in the national achievement rate tables for the 2019 to 2020 academic year in response to Covid-19. 

However, the DfE said that it will still consider publishing national data for the 2019 to 2020 academic year. More information can be found here. 

Furlough rules

The government confirmed that colleges and providers will be able to furlough staff if their public income has reduced or non-public income has ceased or reduced, the government has said.

It has stressed, however, that the proportion of staff furloughed should not exceed the proportion of an institution's income that does not come from public sources. 

In guidance, the Department for Education said FE institutions should only furlough employees if they work in an area of business where services are temporarily not required and whose salary is not covered by public funding, if the employee would otherwise be made redundant or laid off, if they are not involved in delivering provision that has already been funded, or where the employee is not required to deliver provision for a child of a critical worker and/or vulnerable child. 

More information can be found here. 

Data collection

The government has published guidance on which data collections, services or requests will be cancelled, paused or will continue in the 2019 to 2020 academic year. The full list can be found here. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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