The question that I am most asked these day is:
“Do you know when RoATP will reopen for new applicants?”
Of course, the short answer to the question is “No!” I am not event sure that the ESFA have taken that decision yet. For once, I believe them when they say that the re-opening of the Register is “under review”.
When it closed in April 2020, due we were told, to the effects of Covid, I suspected that it would not re-open for some time. Add to that the requirement for all existing providers to refresh their membership, (or as I prefer to call it re-apply), then logic would suggest that the grand re-opening is some time away, and will be in a format not entirely expected by those most interested.
Historically it has been fairly simple to gain access to the Register. The process in place up until April 2020, was not that stretching, nor were the requirements to prove the quality of delivery, or the expertise within the organisation.
The fact that the Agency thinks that there are significantly more providers on the Register than is needed to service the demand for apprenticeships, and that there are many currently on it who are just not up to it, demonstrates the lax approach to the entry criteria of the past.
Of course, there is a way onto the Register currently, and that is via the critical worker exemption, but that route is just not open for the large numbers that I believe are eagerly awaiting, re-opening day!
What of the refresh or re-application process?
What of the refresh or re-application process? This is certainly on the face of it, more stretching than we saw in 2017 and 2019, and I believe that when we look back on the process, we will have clear evidence that it is even more stretching than many are currently assuming.
I am in no doubt that this time round, the process will produce a good many surprises from those providers who fail to take it seriously enough. That is why I describe it as a re-application, rather than just a refresh.
When reflecting on what exactly the ESFA is trying to achieve with this re-application process, I believe that they have four main aims:
- Reduce numbers. There is no doubt in my mind that the ESFA feels that there are too many providers on the register. I believe that they are keen to monitor providers more closely in the future (like the SFA used to!), and their resources will just not stretch to the current number on the Register.
- Improve quality. Alongside the five quality pillars that they are looking to use to more closely monitor provider performance, namely:
- Ofsted grade
- QAR data
- Out of Funded learners
- Early leavers
- Numbers on a break in learning
the ESFA are determined to have a higher quality base of provision within the Register.
- Improve sector knowledge and experience. Asking much more detailed questions about the expertise of the team delivering in each sector, is the major difference from the 2019 refresh. I think that this however is merely the first step in ensuring sectoral credibility, and that providers in future will need to ask permission and demonstrate their competence if they wish to enter a new sector.
- Remove dormant providers. There are over 200 providers on the Register who have not delivered anything in the last 12 months. These will be top of the list to be removed, and arguably, in the majority of cases, rightly so.
So, what will be the impact of the Re-application process? Firstly there will be fewer providers, but those that remain will be of a higher quality. There will be a greater and clearer focus on sectoral expertise. These two outcomes may easily result in the loss of some niche provision. Finally, post re-application, there will be closer monitoring of providers generally, but especially of those that fall foul of the acceptance criteria. Expect more providers to go by the wayside in the future.
When will RoATP reopen for new providers?
Finally, let us come back to my opening question. When will RoATP reopen for new providers? Whilst we don’t know the answer to this yet, my best guess, and there is some logic to this, is not until the refresh / re-application process is complete. That would mean re-opening is a year away. Of course, I could easily be wrong, and the ESFA could announce next week that it was re-opening. Personally, I doubt it. There is just not the need for more providers with the current level of demand for apprenticeships.
Many are assuming that the process for new applicants, when eventually it comes around, will be the same as the current refresh / re-application process. Please don’t make this assumption! I am convinced that it will be even more stringent, and that there will be even greater focus on being able to demonstrate genuine sectoral expertise, and in addition, the necessity for all providers on the Register to ask permission before delivering in a ‘new’ sector.
Time will tell!
Tony Allen, CEO, AAS Ltd