The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is taking active steps to improve its relationship with independent training providers, Kirsty Evans, the ESFA's acting director of further education, has said.
Speaking at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ Business Recovery Conference today, Ms Evans admitted that the agency did not “have a close enough relationship with ITPs”.
From October, the ESFA would be introducing a “large provider team” within the agency that would work with the largest 30 providers, she said.
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Ms Evans said that aim was to help the ESFA “improve the ways of working with all ITPs regardless of size” and “better understand your current challenges and particularly the impact on resilience that Covid-19 may have caused”.
She said: “We do want our relationship with you to reflect the important role that ITPs plays in our skills, infrastructure. And really, as part of that, recognising the key role that you're going to play in supporting employers and the economy to recover as we move forward.
“It’s probably fair to say that our current ways of working mean that we don't have a close enough relationship with ITPs, particularly with our large providers to really understand their priorities and their vulnerabilities.”
The ESFA and the Department of Education both came under a lot of fire from the ITP sector throughout lockdown over financial support.
The AELP repeatedly warned of training providers going bust and apprentices being made redundant owing to a lack of extra funding from the ESFA during the coronavirus pandemic. In April, the organisation sought legal advice against the DfE – and in May, its lawyers warned that the lack of provider support was an “abuse of power”.
The DfE offered a supplier relief scheme for apprenticeship providers – but this did not cover support for apprenticeships funded through the levy.
"Just totally unhelpful"
Talking to Tes last week, AELP’s managing director Jane Hickie said that the financial problems for ITPs had not gone away.
She said: “Providers have been through a really rough time and their exclusion by the government from the provider relief scheme was just totally unhelpful.
“There are some providers who will be fine and there are some providers who are going to suffer a bit and there are some who suffer a lot.”
Today, Evans added that the ESFA did not currently have a “clear enough view about the financial resilience of the ITP sector post-Covid” – or its capacity to aid economic recovery nationally.
She said that the agency wanted to gather data from ITPs such as financial forecasts so that they could have more “robust intelligence” to then inform policy and process going forward.