RoATP Ready

Our Funding and Compliance Manager, Matt Wood, shares his thoughts on the latest RoATP refresh and his top tips for reapplying

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The Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) was first set up in 2016, around the same time as apprenticeship reforms and the introduction of standards. It’s run by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which has recently announced that another RoATP refresh of the register will be taking place.

So what does this mean for training providers that are already registered? 

Our Funding and Compliance Manager, Matt Wood, outlines the key differences between the old application and the new one, explains how providers go about re-registering, and gives his top tips for reapplying.

 

Why is the latest RoATP refresh taking place?

The first refresh of the RoATP register took place in January 2019, then the register was closed in April due to Covid. 

The ESFA has always said that the register would be regularly refreshed to make sure providers are delivering high-quality apprenticeships, so this announcement doesn’t come as a surprise.

The refresh was delayed by Covid but in January (2021), the FE Whitepaper did set out that the refresh would start again from May 2021. This means that every training provider listed on the register has to reapply and it will also be open to new providers. 

 

How do training providers go about reapplying?

The applications will take place from May 2021. Here is an overview of what it means to training providers:

  • The ESFA will be inviting those who are already on the list to re-register over the course of the next 12 months. 
  • You may be one of the first asked or experience a delay in being invited. 
  • Once invited, you have 30 days to reapply.
  • If you don’t act, you will get an email from the ESFA notifying you that you have 10 days to respond and express your interest to reapply. 
  • If you don’t respond, you will be automatically removed from the register, so it is vitally important that you act as soon as you receive notification.

 

What’s the difference between the old application and new one?

There are some significant differences between the two. Previously, there were six sections and now there are nine. So they’ve really fleshed out some areas and the number of questions on the new application significantly outweighs the old. 

Providers are still expected to upload their policies and procedures, for instance safeguarding, complaints policy and equality and diversity.

Then you have to look at financial health, which is always a major aspect of any of these applications. There is a lot more depth on your readiness to engage with learners, employers and awarding organisations. There’s more on how you plan your apprenticeship training and monitor the progress that learners make.

They are interested specifically in which sector you wish to deliver in. Previously, you could apply and then deliver any of the 700 apprenticeship standards. Now they are more keen on training providers having sector specific courses in mind. 

They don’t want experts in sports coaching trying to get into higher level management if the expertise is not in place in the organisation, which makes sense. So what you’re planning to do and how you’re planning to do it is a big thing. 

From there, it’s about how your delivery goes, in terms of the people. They ask you about the staff who will be involved, following a CV pattern and looking at their qualifications and how long they’ve been with your organisation. They will also check that senior management has experience in delivering apprenticeships. 

I think these themes broadly correlate with Ofsted’s themes of intent, implementation and impact.

 

What are the implications for the new system?

I can see this is going to fit with a wider system of Ofsted linking up with the ESFA, probably on a tighter scale than we’ve seen before. This is because Ofsted is now taking over all levels of apprenticeships right up to level six and seven. 

The new application guidance certainly has that in mind from my point of view. If you look at the questions, there may have been 15 previously; now there are up to 40 different questions for main and supporting providers. These ask specifically how you will engage with EPA organisations. 

Some of the topics that are still important are managing OTJ (off the job), how you will develop your staff’s CVs and continuing professional development (CPD). 

Providers are being asked about their wider organisation, so completing this could involve more people. Previously, a senior manager could have completed the application, whereas now you will need to engage across departments.

 

How will this impact large training providers? 

It’s certainly possible that large providers might need to review the number of courses they have on offer and focus on specific areas. I’d like to think that if they are already delivering then they would already have the expertise in place. 

I don’t think we’ll be seeing providers offering something and then they suddenly can’t. But equally, if they don’t have those experts in place and they’re not delivering high-quality standards, they may have to cut that back.

 

What about smaller training providers?

Smaller providers will need to back up their claims of offering courses in certain sectors.

At Bud, we have a range of small specialist providers who only do a couple of courses, but they are well set up to do those. 

As providers grow, there’s no reason why they can’t take on additional sectors but the ESFA wants the right to monitor that. 

So on the application, you will have to list the sectors you want to work in. If you want to change that, the expectation is that you’ll have to inform the ESFA which sectors you want to go into. They may ask for evidence to support that. 

I don’t think this is a problem – you can expand, but it all comes back to driving up quality. They want to see that providers are delivering the best. And that the largest providers, who may have experienced significant growth, are still focusing on the best outcomes for their apprentices. 

 

What is the process after applying?

The ESFA will take approximately 12 weeks to review the application. In the past they’ve taken up to six to nine months to respond, so hopefully they’ll be quicker this time. 

Then it’s a simple pass or fail, although they might come back to you and ask for further clarification. In these cases, you only have 10 days to respond. If you don’t respond, they’ll fail you because they’ve given you the opportunity to expand. 

If unfortunately you’ve failed, you will have to give notice to your employers and you won’t be able to take on any new starts. They won’t necessarily expect you to stop working on the apprentices you’re already training, but they could. 

If you pass, you’re on the register and subject to Ofsted.

A lot of providers will have gone through a first-time monitoring visit or a full inspection, but some people won’t. If you don’t get satisfactory outcomes on inspection, they could freeze activity. That means you won’t be able to take on any new starts until re-inspection.

If you’re insufficient in one of the three themes, that is enough to put a pause on what you’re doing. You’ve got to think about the application in the wider scheme of things – it’s not a case of doing it and no more questions asked. We know Ofsted will come back. 

I think these themes match the Ofsted themes. They may well look at your ESFA application so make sure you follow through and deliver what you put on the application. You need to be implementing everything you’ve said, because Ofsted and the ESFA could check this in their audits. 

It all comes back to the new system of accountability, which is being consulted at the moment. This tougher application for the register is definitely a part of that. Linking with Ofsted is going to stay strong, which is why Ofsted have taken on the level 6 and 7 apprenticeships.

 

What is your advice for training providers reapplying to RoATP?

It’s a difficult question. My advice would be to look at it now, even before you’ve had your invite to apply. There are basic things that you know are going to be asked, such as financial accounts and policies. 

Start thinking about the questions as well. The guidance does get updated, so go back and double check you’re not out of date when it does come to your time to reapply. Start now and take your time, because the reach of the questions is much greater than before. 

Looking at the different aspects of the organisation is key. For instance, you might have somebody who deals specifically with initial assessments or the delivery of English and maths, and somebody else looking at engagement with employers. As an organisation, you may have to talk to a lot of different people, and that’s going to take time. 

Don’t wait until you’ve got your invitation as you’ve only got 30 days to apply and there is so much that you can prepare in advance. It might arrive at ‘hard close’ in October or they might come at a period when you’re incredibly busy.

 

Could you summarise your key points?

Remember that the ESFA is not here to kick training providers off the register. I’ve found that if extenuating circumstances apply, they will be accommodating. 

Don’t rush it either, because if you don’t pass you have to wait another 12 months to apply. There are real people at the ESFA that you can ask for guidance and help.

Here are my top five tips:

  • Start planning the content of your application now 
  • Talk to as many people in your organisation as possible
  • Read the guidance in detail – they’re not looking to trip you up, it’s all in there
  • Ask colleagues to check your answers
  • Don’t rely on one person to answer
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