Karl Bentley, a further education and Apprenticeship funding specialist at RSM

Last week saw the ESFA publish the clarification version of the 2021/22 funding rules for Apprenticeships. This means that there is time to feedback to the ESFA areas where the proposals are not going to give the best outcomes for apprentices. In addition to the usual clarifications and re-writes, there are also some new rules.

One which stood out is in relation to Learning Support 

One which stood out is in relation to Learning Support where ‘an assessment for learning support needs should be undertaken where the apprentice has a diagnosed learning difficulty or disability; or where the main provider has identified a learning difficulty or disability, during the programme, where no official diagnosis is present (prior to any assessment). In this scenario an assessment must not be part of a standard enrolment and providers must not put apprentices through a generic needs assessment, where there is no prior assumption of need, to solely result in a need being found and payment requested.’

It’s right that any generic needs assessment that identifies a possible need is not a greenlight to start claiming funding, as it can’t simply be ‘computer says yes’ now let’s have some cash to support a perceived need. It’s more complex than that and always has been; but providers have to start somewhere to confirm if the learner does have any ‘hidden’ needs.

Let’s also not forget that learning support ‘must not be used to deal with everyday difficulties 

Let’s also not forget that learning support ‘must not be used to deal with everyday difficulties, which includes the definition as per Section 15ZA(7) of the Education Act 1996, that are not directly associated with an apprenticeship. If an apprentice needs help at work, they may be able to get help from Access to Work.’

A generic assessment of need is only the first step in what must be a wider and comprehensive assessment of need that will require discussions with the Apprentice and possibly further assessment. It could well be that the generic assessment gives an indicator of need and a follow up discussion confirms that no support is required as there isn’t a barrier to the learner being able to complete their Apprenticeship. If that’s the case, then no funding can be claimed.

Concerns have been raised over any generic assessment process that suggests a need and, therefore, a claim for funding 

Concerns have been raised over any generic assessment process that suggests a need and, therefore, a claim for funding. Claiming funding off an assessment without evidence of support that sets out what the need is, how it is a barrier to being able to complete the programme or how the activities would be completed is a unsubstantiated claim and recovery of funds could be required.

However, if the follow up to the assessment does confirm a need or barrier that does need support then can we bypass the new rules? If a provider has clearly demonstrated there is a need that requires support to enable the learner to complete their programme should it matter if the need was initially identified via a ‘generic needs assessment’?

There needs to be a clear distinction between what the new rules are targeting and where a thorough assessment of need has taken place. What is needed is a new paragraph which sets out the requirements where a claim for learning support can be made where a generic needs assessment has been used.

Ultimately, the greatest measure of the effectiveness of learning support is improvements in retention and achievement rates. 

Ultimately, the greatest measure of the effectiveness of learning support is improvements in retention and achievement rates. If providers can clearly demonstrate the impact the support is having, is that not a good use of public money; improving the experience of the learner; and ticking all the inclusion boxes for the ESFA and Ofsted?

Karl Bentley, a further education and Apprenticeship funding specialist at RSM

Industry bodies and providers unite to prompt UK government agency ESFA to avoid funding hurdles for apprentices identified as neurodiverse 

On July 30th ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) confirmed that it will continue to support funding for individuals identified as having hidden learning needs upon enrolment to apprenticeship programmes, following an appropriate assessment. 

The announcement marks a U-turn by ESFA, who had previously stated that apprentices would be precluded from accessing funded support if learning needs were identified as part of an enrolment process, amounting to a learner being required to show signs of failure or struggle before they could access support.

This change follows concern raised by multiple organisations including the AoC (Association of Colleges), CognassistMencapTrain TogetherRiverside TrainingSt John AmbulanceBradford College and Learning Innovations and a consultation response led by the AELP (Association of Employment Learning providers).

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