The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has announced that the process of approving providers to deliver apprenticeships for non-levy paying companies has been paused.
Existing contracts held by current providers will instead by extended until the end of the year to “maintain stability in the system”, the ESFA said in a statement published today.
This procurement had been "markedly oversubscribed", the ESFA said, adding that the change would enable it to review its approach and ensure it achieved “the right balance between stability of supply and promoting competition and choice for employers”.
Existing contracts held by all current providers will be extended until the end of December 2017. “The ESFA will notify providers of specific arrangements shortly so that amended contracts are in place ahead of 1 May,” said the statement.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the group fully supported the government’s welcome announcement, which was “right for the sector and right for the apprenticeship programme”.
“It clearly shows that the government is as serious about the quality of the programme and the social mobility benefits of apprenticeships as it is about hitting the three million target," he added.
"The decision also gives the new providers on the register more time to prepare their offer for non-levy paying employers. But more importantly, existing providers can continue to support their employers and start new apprentices while a more considered review of anticipated programme demand takes place in the context of the industrial strategy and the skills implications of Brexit.”
He added that some providers would be frustrated by the announcement, “but the programme’s reputation will be better served by this rethink of the government’s approach."
And David Hughes, chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said the ESFA’s decision was “a sensible and helpful recognition of the scale and complexity of change which is happening at the moment”.
“This provides welcome stability to colleges and providers as well as to employers and apprentices through the coming months; this will give more time to get the procurement process right," he added.
"We know that there are many new providers wanting to enter the apprenticeship market, but the government needs to find a way to ensure that their introduction does not inadvertently undermine current high quality, trusted colleges and providers that have built strong employer relationships over many years and for which apprenticeships are a key opportunity for progression for their students."