Could you give us some background to the register and help us understand why the RoATP refresh is taking place?
To give you some background, the register first came about in 2016 along with the apprenticeship reforms that took place and the introduction of standards. We since had a refresh in January 2019 and then the register was closed in April due to covid. This refresh was expected as the ESFA had always said that it would be regularly refreshed to make sure the providers on there are delivering high quality apprenticeships.
We had a delay due to Covid and in January (2021) the FE Whitepaper did set out that the refresh would start again from May 2021, that everybody on there would have to reapply and that it would be open to new providers. So that is where we currently are.
The applications will take place from May and everyone will be invited to reapply every month. You may be one of the first asked or you may have a delay to being invited. Either way you have 30 days to reapply and 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 to that you will be automatically removed from the register, so it is vitally important that you act as soon as you receive notification.
Have been able to identify the key differences between the old application and the new?
Yes, there are some significant differences between the two. Previously there were 6 sections and now there are 9 so they’ve really fleshed out some of those areas and the number of questions on the new significantly outweigh the old. Providers are still expected to upload their policies and procedures – for instance safeguarding, complaints policy, equality and diversity and so on – those haven’t changed, they’re pretty standard.
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 how your delivery goes, the people. So they ask you for the staff who will be involved, following a CV pattern and looking at their qualifications and how long they’ve been with your organisation. And checking that senior management actually have experience in delivering apprenticeships. I think these themes broadly correlate with Ofsteds themes, intent implement and impact.
You 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, because Ofsted are now taking over all levels of apprenticeships right up to level 6 and 7. The new application guidance certainly has that in mind from my point of view. If you look at the questions, previously there may have been 15 now there are up to 40 different questions for main and supporting providers, asking specifically how you will engage with EPA organisations, these are new questions. Managing OTJ is still there, how you’re going to develop your staff’s CV’s, CPD is really important. Providers are being asked about their wider organisation so completing this could involve more people. Previously, a senior manager could have completed the application now you will need to engage across departments.
What will be the impact on the largest training providers who may be offering a broader range of courses? Do you think they might need to review the number of courses they have on offer and focus on specific areas?
It’s certainly possible. I’d like to think if they are already delivering then they would already have the expertise in place. I don’t think we’ll be seeing providers currently 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.
So it will be more about evidencing the experts that they have in place, so perhaps the impact will be on the smaller end of the market making sure they can back up their claims of offering courses in certain sectors?
Exactly that. At Bud we have a range of small specialist providers who only do a couple of courses, 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 now want the right to monitor that. So on the application you’ll have to list the sectors you want to work in and if you want to change that at any point the expectation is you’ll have to inform the ESFA of which sectors you want to go into and they might have the right to ask for evidence to support that. I don’t think there 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 if some providers are too large are they delivering the best for apprentices?
Once a training provider has gone through the reapplication process, what do you summise is the process after admission?
The ESFA will take approximately 12 weeks to review the application and come back to you. In the past they’ve taken several months to respond, up to 6 – 9 months, 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, and if they do that 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. We need to understand a little bit more about what they’ll do post application. 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 haven’t, if you don’t get satisfactory outcomes on inspection they could freeze activity, i.e. 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 and you’re 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 they are doing consultation on 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 would be your main pieces of advice for training providers who are re-applying to RoATP?
It’s a difficult question, my advice would be look at it now, even before you’ve had your invite to apply. There are basic things that you know are going to be on there 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 but 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, somebody else looking at engagement with employers. So as an organisation you may have to talk to a lot of different people, so that’s going to take time. Don’t wait until you’ve got your invitation and you’ve only got 30 days to apply, it might arrive at ‘hard close’ in October or they might come at a period when you’re incredibly busy, the world is still not back to normal, some people are still on furlough, its opening up and if your employers are rushing back in a month when you have to do your application you might be in a sticky situation.
Could you summarise your key points?
Start now, think it through, 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, get people to check your answers, don’t rely on one person to answer. The ESFA are not here to kick us all off the register, I’ve found if extenuating circumstances apply they will be accommodating. Don’t rush it through, because if you don’t pass you have to wait another 12 months to apply, take precautions. So there are real people that you can ask for guidance and help.
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