With the 2023/24 initial funding rules released earlier than in previous years, we were delighted to welcome compliance specialist, David Lockhart-Hawkins (lead consultant of Lockhart Hawkins and associate of the Strategic Development Network), to present an initial summary of the changes to more than 700 Aptem customers and apprenticeship professionals from across the sector. His original presentation was made stating the impending release of a second version of the funding rules and that some content would change.
This article has been updated in line with the 12 May 2023 release of the funding rules ‘Version 1’ that followed April’s draft document.
Advice for providers
- The webinar and recap below offer a summary of many of the new funding rules. The devil is in the detail, so make sure you refer to the full funding rules before you make any changes and note that there have been some updates for version 1.
- You can access the original webinar recording here.
- For more information on the changes and detailed analysis of the most effective approaches to implementation as well as examples of how they look, sign up for David’s June webinar ‘How to implement the new 2023/24 Apprenticeship funding rules’.
- On the Strategic Development Network (SDN) website, you will also see David’s other upcoming apprenticeship series on understanding and implementing effective apprenticeship costings, claiming learning support with confidence and his two excellent series on the fundamentals of compliance and what it means for all roles, and compliance for leaders.
Below are some of David’s thoughts: Summary of apprenticeship funding rule changes 2023/24
The funding rules document itself has changed
- There is now just one version of the funding rules document, rather than individual versions for Main Providers, Employer Providers, and employers. The Department for Education has removed what they call ‘unnecessary rules and duplication’ and have simplified language. However, there is still a significant section to be added – the summary of actions following changes of circumstance.
- There is improved accessibility. There’s more white space in the document. So although the page volume has not reduced, it is a lot more readable. Another really useful change is to have the evidence requirements at the end of each section, rather than in a separate annex at the back of the document.
What has been removed from the funding rules?
- ‘Recruit an Apprentice’ guidance has been moved to your funding agreement.
- Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA). Following the withdrawal of the ATA Register, and the subsequent launch of the Register of Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agencies, the department has removed the rules relating to ATAs.
- Data Protection. These requirements are included in the provider funding agreement.
- European Social Fund (ESF) Section has been removed as ESF match funding requirements will not apply for apprenticeship delivery starting in 2023/24.
Initial Assessment (IA) – the importance of having an outcome agreement with the employer
Last year, the rules introduced a requirement for the involvement of the employer in the initial assessment of Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSBs), to agree identified prior learning and the subsequent amendments to content, price and duration where applicable.
The apprenticeship funding rules have continued to develop in this area for 2023. This is about all parties understanding their roles earlier in the process, before you commit to a start. The employer’s involvement in agreeing the outcome of initial assessment is not something many providers have effectively adopted into their systems, particularly if the apprentice is a new employee or recent hire.
Many have used the occasion of signing off the training plan as the stage where terms and conditions are confirmed, but this rule development is about formalising the phase of agreeing with the employer how they will work with the given individual but also about clarifying the appropriateness of the job role to the standard, what I call “role fit”.
This initial assessment outcome discussion really becomes the place for personalisation of the training plan and the agreement to the planned programme roles and responsibilities. Where the employer is not able to attend the discussion, there must be evidence that they were given the opportunity to contribute and have been sent relevant information after the meeting, for review and signature.
I think many will still look to have training plan agreement and signatures within this meeting, but you’re going to want clearer summaries of the outcome of IA within the format and improved declaration terms.
On and off the job training
There have been some updates to what counts and does not count as ‘off the job training’. Last year’s rules made clear that activities need to be agreed, planned and documented as a part of the training plan. This year’s rules further elaborate to make clear that the activities need to be in the plan if they are to be counted as off the job training.
Generally, this rule change matches several others that focus on curriculum design, the planning of activity, and being aware of the programme design / the delivery meeting that design. Without a clearly planned curriculum, it will be very difficult to be compliant.
The original version of the 23/24 funding rules excluded revision as an off the job activity (as I stated in the webinar) however this has been backtracked to be includable but only if “specifically required for the achievement of the apprenticeship”, examinations and other testing (including mock EPA are still excluded) as an OTJ.
The important thing is for you and the employers you work with to be clear on what counts as ‘off the job’ (OTJ) training as anything relevant to new learning, relevant to standard, in paid time and not Maths/English would be OTJ irrespective of where it was, but it needs to be clear in your training plan.
If you have close to minimum OTJ hours planned into your training plan and you had mock EPA prep and examinations in your plan, you cannot have these in it so you will need to change your programme design. These types of activities will still happen, but they aren’t classified as OTJ so be transparent when and how they’re going to occur and ensure apprentices do not log them as OTJ (though you may still want them to be logged so you can operationally be aware they have occurred).
Policy update: The apprentice does not need to spend at least 50% of their apprenticeship duration with the employer whose PAYE scheme they are on, if they are employed by an employment agency or business, and they start their apprenticeship prior to 31 December 2023. This update is to allow any remaining organisations, who are delivering the model of employing apprentices and placing them with host employers, to apply to join the Register of Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agencies when it next opens.
The new rules include clarification that you need to check there is a contract for a period of time long enough to complete the apprenticeship, including end point assessment.
This is a common issue for providers who often find that fixed term contracts and delays in delivery do not tend to go hand in hand with success. Top tip: capture this in your gateway review, that the employer confirms employment continues for the period of time EPA is expected to be sat. An MI field of ‘contract expiry’ can be used to monitor compliance risk here, for example of non-achievement particularly when profiling projected practical period end dates or completion dates.
The 12 May 2023 version of the new rules discusses loss of employment or change after gateway. Where an apprentice has changed employer after they have completed all the training and reached gateway (including where the new job role is not related to the apprenticeship), they may complete the end point assessment if the end point assessment organisation and the provider agree that it can be satisfactorily taken and paid for; however it’s not yet clear on technically how to achieve this in the ILR and funding system. More detail is said to be on the way.
If an employer does not pay an apprentice a lawful wage, the individual is ineligible to receive apprenticeship funding. Not new really but clarified nonetheless. The provider burden here is one of having confirmed with the employer the apprentice is receiving a lawful wage, which can be a copy of the terms and conditions or a written statement regarding wages in the training plan. When in the initial assessment phase, they are not in an apprenticeship and can’t be paid an apprentice wage until the apprenticeship agreement is in place.
The 12 May 2023 version of the new rules states that the provider is not responsible for checking the lawful minimum wage is being paid once the apprenticeship ends.
Active learning and Breaks in Learning (BIL)
Active learning will now be changing to activity within a calendar month rather than 4-weekly. For example, someone who engages on 1 Jan and 28 Feb won’t need to be on a BIL. Make sure you have OTJ in programme design, and capture the evidence a learner has done something in every calendar month to underpin the monthly payment made. If you are a University with a big break in the summer, think about the activities a learner can complete that are directed but not necessarily delivered by you.
The 12 May 2023 version of the new rules included an addition that a break will not need to be applied if there is OTJ in the subsequent month. So basically an active learning break is needed only if there’s a gap of two calendar months of no OTJ but you do need to re-plan. This is very provider friendly from a funding perspective but administratively the need to re-plan will remain. This will now apply to carryovers as well as new starts.
Also consider though that even though we may not need to apply a break on the ILR, think about the operational impact of disengagement here on the likelihood of completion and the original timeframes you expected. Last activity date isn’t just a compliance risk – it’s about disengagement and withdrawal risk, so have robust retention strategies in place.
The calendar month principle will also now apply to breaks in learning from August. The May version also confirmed these active learning rules and break rules can be applied from 1st August 2023 to apprentices that started in a previous year.
The summary of changes document suggests you don’t have to have an agreed plan in place until day 42. This is not accurate. The plan must be agreed, it just doesn’t have to be signed until day 42, however be cautious here. Signed apprenticeship agreements must still be in place so if you can’t sign a training plan the likelihood is you also haven’t had the apprenticeship agreement signed which would still be a funding error. This issue is a trip hazard to those who do not have robust signature systems, but what it does do is potentially help those providers who may want to dig deeper into the personalisation of a training plan following initial agreement, before getting that signed.
The 12 May 2023 version of the new rules also states the importance of extending Apprenticeship Agreements if the programme goes past the original planned end date.
There are three main areas of change/clarification:
1. Progress reviews must take place at least 4 times per year. These must be carried out at least every 12 weeks, unless there is an evidenced delivery reason, such as module length, to adopt an alternative frequency. There is therefore now some flexibility, for example, if particular chapters or modules are longer and you want to conduct your reviews at the end of it.
In the May version of the rules it was clarified this can extend to apprentices that started in a previous year (what I call “carryovers”).
2. If the employer is unable to attend, they must be given the opportunity to contribute. They must also be sent relevant information after the meeting, for review and signature.
3. Progress reviews can be virtual. What is clear is that the review content needs to be usable, shareable and copies issued for signature.
That is a basic overview and from my perspective, there’s a lot more I could say to help a provider adequately prepare. Though there are fewer significant changes than last year, there are some important changes and addressing them in your systems is not as simple as adding an extra form or layer of bureaucracy if you want to be effective.
For me, the theme here is ‘programme design’, which works hand in hand with my own compliance philosophy of compliance by curriculum design, whereby in the inherent programme design of your apprenticeship you can drive whether you will be compliant or not through the detail of your training plan and how that is subsequently met.
Compliance and quality really are intertwining here more and more, so understanding the learning activities you plan, how long they should take, what chapter of the standard, against which KSBs they meet, and getting them right in your learning management platforms are essential to not just deliver effectively, but to be compliant.
Watch the full webinar
For more thoughts from David see his regularly updated LinkedIn feed here: David Lockhart-Hawkins | LinkedIn and visit www.lockharthawkins.com. For additional consultancy and future events you can also see www.strategicdevelopmentnetwork.co.uk where David is a senior consultant alongside other highly influential and experienced consultants in apprenticeship quality and development. SDN is also helping deliver the apprenticeship workforce development programme.