Private apprenticeship training providers are “on the brink of collapse” after failing to secure financial support from the Department for Education during the coronavirus crisis.
According to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, the DfE has “refused to comply” with Cabinet Office Covid-19 guidelines, which require all government departments and public bodies to pay their contracted suppliers during the crisis.
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Unlike further education colleges, which have been reassured by the DfE that they will continue to receive financial support, private training companies have been urged to seek support from the Treasury to keep afloat, the AELP said.
A survey of 279 members by the association carried out last week found that 49 worried they might close altogether, 79 would mothball, and 154 would have to downsize.
The AELP estimates that around 52,000 young people and adults will lose their apprenticeship or learning provision as a result of closures, while another 60,000 could be affected if courses are mothballed.
According to a report in the Financial Times, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan has sent the AELP a letter to reassure the organisation she is aware of the issues providers are facing.
However, there was no commitment that private training companies would be supported by the DfE, and they were pointed to the various support packages set out by the chancellor, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
One provider told the AELP that 1,500 apprentices would not be able to complete their exams this year. Another said it was reluctant to put its business up as security in order to access the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
Another provider added: “Learners are scared. The employers are scared. Providers are scared. Classrooms won’t change this and we will not put staff or learners at risk. Closure is closure.”
AELP chief executive Mark Dawe said: “These survey results are from last Wednesday and in the absence of any further action from the DfE since then, the situation in terms of mothballing and potential shutdowns has worsened.
“Action on funding apprenticeships and other important skills programmes is needed right now if the government seriously wants this year’s school-leavers and unemployed adults who need retraining after the crisis to have apprenticeships available to them.”
Dawe added that hundreds of training providers risked being thrown “onto the scrapheap” if they received no financial assistance. End-point assessment providers also face a battle for survival, according to the AELP.
“My message to the DfE is simple: Guarantee April’s funding for apprenticeships and other work-based programmes to allow time for us all to sort through the details of how a sustainable funding model might work,” he said.
Last week, the Institute of Student Employers found that 23% of its employer members planned to cut apprenticeship and school-leaver recruitment programmes due to the coronavirus.
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With devolved authorities in major urban areas now extending guarantees of funding to private providers, the ESFA finds itself increasingly isolated in its refusal to do so. Like a lifeboat keeping its distance for fear of being swamped, the ESFA leadership watches impassively on as private providers sink. Departmental ambivalence and dithering reign supreme in the midst of a crisis and sadly our nation’s youth will pay the price for years to come.