IfATE: Apprenticeship levy needs 'stability' not reform

Exclusive: IfATE boss Jennifer Coupland says she opposes 'changing the scope or nature' of the apprenticeship levy

Stephen Exley

Coronavirus consultation delay: Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

The apprenticeship levy needs “stability” rather than radical reform, according to the chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE).

Jennifer Coupland told Tes that she was not in favour of “changing the scope or nature of what’s funded via the levy”, and argued against rationing any type of provision to avoid funding running out.

report by the Learning and Work Institute, published in October, said that current trends suggested that the levy could be overspent by £1 billion in the next year – despite apprenticeship starts falling by a fifth since its introduction.

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Large employers with a payroll of £3 million or more are currently required to contribute to the levy, and have access to the funding to spend on apprenticeships. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) then have access to any unspent levy funds.

Ms Coupland yesterday told the Financial Times that this had resulted in apprenticeships in SMEs dropping by 10 per cent since the levy was introduced, and called for an additional £750 million to be made available to boost the programme in small businesses.

'Don't change the nature of apprenticeship levy'

Speaking to Tes today, Ms Coupland said she did not support calls for apprenticeship funding to be rationed to certain levels, industries or age groups – including degree- and other higher-level apprenticeships.

“I think the priority for me is that it continues to be an employer-led programme. When we had the previous funding system, we had a system where government was funding providers directly and employers were sitting to one side of that, and we had in large part a low-skill programme that was dominated [by] level 2," she said.

“What we’re now seeing is growth in a range of different jobs at different kind of levels, and I would want to try to prioritise preserving that mix of levels and different types of apprenticeships and different routes in different areas of the economy.”

When asked about proposals to broaden the scope of the training funded by the levy, such as those put forward by the CBILabour and the Liberal Democrats, Ms Coupland said: “It is really important at this point in time that there’s a bit of stability to allow the levy to root itself into the system as a part of how we fund skills in this country, so I’m not in the camp of advocating of changing the scope or nature of what’s funded via the levy.

“We had a system pre-levy where government invested £1.5 billion in apprenticeships. And they don’t do that now. The funding comes via the levy from levy-paying large employers, and what we’re seeing in practice is they’ve really embraced that and they are expanding their apprenticeship programmes and creating apprenticeships in new areas, which I think is great.”

Ms Coupland also hit out at a report by the EDSK thinktank, published earlier this month, which criticised “fake” apprenticeships being funded through the levy. She told Tes: “I frankly thought it was insulting and demeaning to apprentices to suggest that if they weren’t on a level 3 apprenticeship programme… they were somehow not worthy, and on ‘fake apprenticeships’.

“I think the report was in itself a fake research report. It was more polemic than research, and to set out the stall that anything that wasn’t a level 3 wasn’t a valid apprenticeship was spectacularly  missing the point of the apprenticeship reforms.”

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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