Issue 103 | February 2020

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We hope you are all well and had a good half term if you managed to get a break. We have been busy recently with a wide variety of support requests such as: MIS support and training in preparation for audit; Apprenticeship partnership management and due diligence; Pension reporting liability and working with local government and teacher pension schemes.

If these challenges sound familiar and you would like to speak to one of our team as to how we can help with these or any other interim management and consultancy roles then do drop us a line at or at 0121 643 8988


The responsibilities of the new and existing ministers listed below apply to education in England. This is because education policy and spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are reserved matters for the devolved governments of those countries. Relevant ministerial changes (and confirmation of existing ones) in England include the following:

  • Gavin Williamson remains as Secretary of State for Education.
  • Gillian Keegan has been appointed Minister for Apprenticeship and Skills. Ms Keegan is MP for Chichester and has been a parliamentary Apprenticeship Ambassador, with responsibility to support apprenticeship schemes across public bodies and businesses. She is also the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for apprentices. Having left school at 16, she began an engineering apprenticeship at Delco Electronics in Merseyside, and was later sponsored by the firm to obtain a degree in business studies at Liverpool John Moore’s University.
  • Chris Skidmore has left his post as the Universities and Science Minister. Mr Skidmore was known to oppose the recommendations made in the Augar Review, and in particular the proposals to cut the tuition fee cap for English universities and to restrict the number of students entering higher HE by ending loan access for applicants with lower grades. Mr Skidmore’ replacement is Michelle Donelan, the MP for Chippenham, who has been confirmed as Universities Minister in the UK government. Amongst other things, she has previously served as a member of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, and as interim Minister for Children and Families during Kemi Badenoch’s maternity leave. Ms Donelan’s full departmental responsibilities have, at the time of writing, yet to be officially confirmed since it has been decided that the universities brief will be split from the science, indicating that a separate science minister will be appointed in due course. Ms Donelan’s duties in office will include helping to formulate the government’s response to the recommendations of the Augar Review, taking action against the number of unconditional offers being made by universities, reducing the number of ‘low-quality’ university courses, and strengthening free speech on university campuses.
  • Nick Gibb continues in his role as Schools Minister.
  • Lord Agnew has left the Department for Education (DfE) and has been promoted to the role of Minister of State at both the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. Lord Agnew’s role at the DfE was wide ranging and included being Minister with responsibility for academies, faith schools, independent schools, home education and school governance, but was additionally responsible for the ‘FE market’ and college financial oversight. Baroness Berridge has been appointed Minister for Academies, but at the time of writing it has not been confirmed whether she will be taking over any other of Lord Agnew’s previous responsibilities.

As an aside, the Sutton Trust has analysed the educational backgrounds of members of the new Cabinet and has found that 62% were educated at independent schools, while 30% went to a comprehensive school and 8% attended a grammar school. 50% of the Cabinet went to Oxbridge universities and 8% were educated at other Russell Group universities. A copy of the Sutton Trust analysis can be found at:


Also, in a move not directly linked to education but which will clearly have a significant impact on education funding, Rishi Sunak has replaced Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Leaders in the college sector are hoping that Mr Sunak will use his 11 March Budget Statement to confirm that:

  • The 2021/2 budgets previously agreed by Mr Javid, including college capital programme, will be kept to or improved upon.
  • The new Shared Prosperity Fund will be targeted at ‘left behind’ areaswhere economic activity is lower, and unemployment is higher.
  • The DfE will be financially supported in implementing the recommendations of the Auger Review and in delivering a plan for the new National Skills Fund (NSF) which will provide funds for developing and improving higher technical education in FE colleges in all parts of the country.
  • The pupil premium will be extended to support 16-18-year-olds that need support.

The population of 16-18 year olds is projected to increase significantly between 2020 and 2024. Updated figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that the number of 16-18 year olds will increase from 2.11 million in 2020 to 2.38 million by 2024, a projected increase of 267,000, rising to around 500,000 by 2028. For more information and data on this growth, see:

Assuming a participation rate of around 90% in 16-18 education and training and a funding rate of around £4,200 per student, this means that by 2024, an increase in core funding of more than £1.1 billion will be required just to cope with the increased 16-18 numbers.

  • Robert Halfon, who was Skills Minister from 2017 to 2019, has been re-elected unopposed as Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Speaking after his election, Mr Halfon said that he would continue to argue for more funding for FE, ‘because it has always been underfunded’. He also said that he intended to investigate the activities of ‘golden goose’ education quangos, such as the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), that are ‘untouched by austerity’ and ‘can spend money, seemingly unsupervised, wherever they want’. In addition, he restated his support for adult education, the funding of which the last Education Committee had announced an inquiry into before the general election. Mr Halfon says he hopes this will be picked up again by the new Education Select Committee.
  • Baroness Alison Wolf (author of the Wolf Review of Vocational Education) has been appointed to the Number 10 Policy Unit. Professor Wolf is on a sabbatical from her post at Kings College, London and will work for three days a week providing advice to the Prime Minister on such things as the reform of apprenticeship levy, the implementation of T-Levels and investment in adult skills (including the ‘…reintroduction of evening classes’). Professor Wolf is known to be critical of what she calls the ‘…vast amount of the money that is compartmentalised and does not actually go to frontline provision for learners’. She is on record as saying that lack of core funding has meant that colleges ‘…have been tremendously weakened’ and that requiring them to apply for ‘…lots of little pots of funding is extraordinarily wasteful’. She has also warned that devolution may not always help colleges, since it ‘…simply adds another layer of bureaucracy’.

With apprenticeship reform high on the agenda, an upcoming budget statement and spending review, and reports that around £400 million of apprenticeship levy funding has been unused and has now expired, it is thought significant that both Robert Halfon and Baroness Wolf are known to be in favour of replacing the apprenticeship levy with giving firms tax credits for the money they spend on apprentices and upskilling their other workers. This reflects a similar arrangement, whereby if companies invest in research and development, they receive a tax credit (which can amount to £ millions), to incentivise them to do more.


Research commissioned and published by the DfE says that colleges are ‘…generally producing good quality FE provision’, but are facing serious financial challenges.

With reference to the curriculum, the report says that:

  • Course content and teaching time has been, and continues to be, reduced.
  • FE courses and apprenticeships have been, and continue to be, lost.
  • Whole programme areas are under threat. Some have already been lost.
  • Group sizes are increasing.
  • Use of non-tutor led learning is increasing.

In terms of academic and support staffing, the report says that:

  • Staff workload is increasing.
  • Staff headcounts are down and staffing structures are squeezed.
  • Less staff development and continuous professional development (CPD) is taking place.
  • Pay rises are made infrequently. When they have been given, they are invariably less than inflation.
  • Recruitment and retention of all staff, academic and support, is difficult, particularly since more attractive employment opportunities exist outside of the FE sector.
  • The impact of unfunded increases in pensions and other pay-related costs, over which colleges have no control, has a serious impact on their finances.
  • Providing GCSE English and mathematics re-sit provision poses considerable financial challenges.

With reference to support for students, the report says that:

  • The pressure on budgets has led to levels of learner support that are inadequate and do not meet the increasingly diverse needs of students.
  • The availability of professional support for mental health-related issues is a cause for serious concern.

With reference to capital and infrastructure spending, the report says that:

  • Colleges have suffered cuts disproportionately and do not have sufficient funding for necessary capital and infrastructure expenditure.
  • The FE curriculum offer is being compromised by the lack of necessary equipment. IT and other equipment is now sufficiently obsolete for the efficient delivery and the credibility of the curriculum to be increasingly impaired
  • The fabric of the college estate in GFECs and SFCs is in gradual and continuing decline, with often only essential Health and Safety critical work being undertaken.

Other cost-related concerns covered in the report include the following:

  • Utility costs are expected to increase by at least inflation over the next three to four years.
  • Rising transport costs are having a negative impact on students’ ability to get to college.
  • The financial capacity of colleges to carry the extra costs of high needs learners is of serious concern.

The report’s overall assessment concludes that without an ‘immediate and significant’ increase in income, the future financial viability of the sector is at risk. A copy of the report can be found at:


Earlier this month, FETL (the Further Education Trust for Leadership) published a report entitled ‘Leading by Listening’, the findings of which were based on meetings conducted with groups of students, teaching and support staff and college leadership teams, who discussed ‘what it felt like to be them’ working or studying in FE at the moment. The report makes for a depressing read. Amongst other things, the participants interviewed said that they thought that FE was:

  • Misunderstood by those in authority and ‘…forced into an ill-fitting educational straitjacket’.
  • Assessed ‘…using crude, unsuitable and unfavourable measures’.
  • Denied the resources it needed.
  • ‘Overwhelmed and undervalued’, and ‘…wracked with insecurity and self-doubt’.
  • Struggling to make the best of a bad situation and under pressure to ‘…game the system’.

A copy of the report can be found at:


The FE Commissioner, Richard Atkins, has published his 2018/19 Annual Report. The report shows that:

  • 13 colleges entered intervention in 2018/19. 12 were placed in intervention for financial reasons and one as a result of a diagnostic assessment carried out by the Commissioner’s team. This means that 5 more colleges were placed into intervention in 2018/19 than in 2017/18.
  • None of the colleges entering intervention did so as a result of an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted grade.
  • 17 colleges moved out of intervention in 2018/19. This means that the total number of colleges in intervention dropped from 27 in 2017/18 to 23 in 2018/19.
  • Where intervention was required, said Mr Atkins, it was ‘…frequently the result of poor governance and leadership over a number of years’.
  • Many of those moving out of intervention in 2018/19 were able to take advantage of the DfE Restructuring Facility to resolve problems that were previously ‘very entrenched’.
  • The Commissioner’s team conducted 33 diagnostic assessments in 2018/19, four more than 2017/18.
  • There was an increase in the number of National Leaders of Further Education (NLFEs) and National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) operating as part of the Commissioner’s team.
  • The number of structural reviews carried out fell from 20 in 2017/18 to 13 in 2018/19. This was directly attributed to the scaling down of the DfE Restructuring Facility.
  • 74% of colleges eligible to do so applied for cash from the Strategic College Improvement Fund (SCF). 91% of these applicants secured grants ranging from £60,000 to almost £500,000.

A copy of the FE Commissioner’s 2018/19 report is available at:


In May 2016, government funding of £80 million was made available to establish five employer-led National Colleges in key growth sectors. These sectors were Creative and Cultural, Digital Skills, Nuclear, High Speed Rail and Oil and Gas. This funding was supplemented by a substantial level of investment from local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), industry bodies and businesses.

The government’s aim was for the National Colleges to help meet the shortfall in higher level technical skills in these key growth sectors. To achieve this, they would:

  • Employ teachers with up-to-date understanding of the industry.
  • Teach students in learning environments that accurately simulate the workplace.
  • Award qualifications at Levels 3-6 in their specialist areas and set standards which other colleges across the country could use.
  • Attract and recruit their students from schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and FE colleges.
  • Contribute to improved parity of esteem between technical and academic education.
  • Increase the number of learners choosing to study higher technical education and training courses.

However, almost since their inception, they have faced severe problems in terms of recruitment which has in turn had serious implications for their continued financial viability. In December 2018, the DfE commissioned the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to carry out an evaluation of their implementation to date, particularly from the perspectives of key stakeholders. The aims of the evaluation were to identify factors that have helped or hindered their development and how lessons learned can be applied to other DfE programmes, particularly IoTs. The evaluation has now been concluded and the DfE has published a report, the findings of which include the following:

  • In developing the National Colleges, more detailed consideration should have been given to how existing education and training providers operate. This lesson appears to have been learned since, unlike National Colleges, IoTs will be created within existing FE and HE institutions and not separate from them.
  • There is an inherent risk with National Colleges in that their provision is so narrow that student numbers will be too low to achieve financial sustainability.
  • Most National College managers from industry have been unfamiliar with FE educational processes and funding systems. It would have been of benefit if the expertise of industry representatives had been combined with that of educational specialists with experience of the FE sector and its funding systems from the start.
  • High-quality teaching staff with the necessary industry experience have been difficult to recruit from specialist sectors of the UK economy, where salary expectations are high. However, the current funding environment in the FE sector does not allow colleges to offer competitive wages. Consideration needs to be given as to how IoTs can attract high quality teaching staff. One suggestion is that employer contributions should be sought to co-fund teachers’ (and managers’) salaries in order to bring them closer in line with salaries in industry (and good luck with that, one observer was heard to say).

A copy of the report can be found at:


The DfE has published tender details and invited bids for the £120 million second wave of IoTs. These are intended to cover ‘cold spots’ where no IoTs are currently planned. All applications must meet the minimum conditions set out in wave one tenders and be a collaboration involving FE, HE and employer partners. However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that only proposals from the 20 LEP areas that are currently not covered by an IoT will be eligible to apply. The IoT tender prospectus does not detail the exact criteria for applications, but the first IoTs had to involve FE colleges with at least a ‘good’ Ofsted grade at their last inspection and have ‘good’ financial health. A copy of the tender document is at:


As part of its efforts to ‘level up’ local communities, the government has launched a £3.6 billion ‘Towns Fund’, and has invited local councils, community organisations, businesses and education and training providers in 100 locations across the country to collaborate in submitting bids for investment projects. Town Deal Boards will be established that will set out local investment priorities and develop a locally-owned Town Investment Plan. Town Deal Boards will consider applications for project funding to identify those that will be most likely to drive local long term economic and productivity growth through connectivity, land use, use of existing assets (including ‘cultural assets’), and existing skills and enterprise infrastructure. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has now written to colleges, encouraging them to collaborate with local partners in bidding for investment from the fund and to seek representation on Town Deal Boards. In his letter, Mr Williamson says that college proposals need to demonstrate how they will help to:

  • Identify local skills needs, and how local people can be supported to acquire these skills.
  • Support local businesses by developing provision to help them access the skilled labour they need.
  • Incentivise employers to invest in providing the facilities they need to upskill their workforce.

A copy of the Towns Deal prospectus highlighting the process and criteria for bids can be found at:


Figures released by the DfE this month reveal that overall participation in government-funded further FE and skills (including apprenticeships) programmes has fallen by 3.3% from 1,132,700 in quarter(Q) 1 of 2018/19, to 1,171,500 in Q1 of 2019/20, a decrease of 3.3%. More on this can be found at:


As part of its ongoing review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below (other than A-Levels and GCSEs), the DfE has announced the second stage of its consultation on plans to remove funding for those qualifications with low, or no, student numbers. The first consultation ran from March to June 2019 and the second will run until 27 March this year. The outcome of the consultation is expected to impact on around 5,000 qualifications including more than 200 BTECs which are thought likely to have their funding removed in 2021. The move is also a part of the plans for introducing the new T-Level qualifications which, says the DfE, will be the ‘gold standard’ technical course of choice for young people from 2020 onwards. This latest purge also takes the qualifications system closer to the one apparently preferred by the government, where 16-year-olds choose from one of three main routes, these being A-Levels, apprenticeships or T-Levels. Further information can be found at:


Current government policy is that it is a condition of funding that all students aged 16-18 who have not achieved a Grade 4 or above in English and/or mathematics must continue to study the subject until they do (or reach the age of 19). In the summer of 2019, nearly 180,000 students re-sat their GCSE mathematics, however only 22% of them achieved a grade 4 or better. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, following the publication of the report of Professor Sir Adrian Smith’s Review of Post-16 Mathematics, an organisation called Mathematics in Industry and Education (MIE) was funded by the Nuffield Foundation to develop an alternative GCSE mathematics curriculum that would be more relevant to the future life and employment needs of those16-18 year olds required to retake the examination.

Further details of the MEI proposals are now emerging, and these include the following:

  • Possible titles for the new qualification include GCSE Core Maths and GCSE numeracy.
  • The qualification will require students to take three examinations, as follows:
    • A one-hour paper early in the course taken early as a ‘stepping-stone’ to the full GCSE (suggesting a partial return to the modular approach).
    • Two one-and-a-half-hour papers at the end of the course.
  • Examples of the sorts of areas that will be covered in the curriculum include:
    • Understanding discounts in sales offers.
    • Splitting a restaurant bill.
    • Using shapes in designing a garden or craft project.
    • Buying enough paint to decorate a room.
    • Understanding transport timetables.
    • Understanding a map or scale drawing.
    • Making sense of statistics in the news.
    • Understanding statistics relating to personal fitness and health.
  • The new maths GCSE will be available the foundation tier (1-3) since, says the MEI, those re-sit students assessed as being likely to benefit from taking the higher tier (Grades 4-9) are best served by re-sitting the standard GCSE Mathematics.

The proposals have been welcomed by college and employer representatives, and a DfE spokesperson said ‘…we recognise the challenges faced by some students who have to retake their maths GCSE’.  A copy of the MEI report is at:

And a copy of the report of the Smith Review of Post-16 Mathematics is at:


T-Level providers are to receive £110 million to help them prepare for the delivery of T-Levels in the 2020/21 academic year. Of this, £95 million will be invested through the T-Level capital fund to help colleges buy industry-standard equipment and upgrade their facilities. This is in addition to the £38 million capital fund allocated to the first 50 providers offering the T-Levels this September. This latest funding will again be made available in two stages. The first stage involves those providers scheduled to commence delivering T-Levels in 2021 being invited to bid to refurbish their existing buildings or to build new teaching spaces. The second stage will be launched in the spring of 2021, when all T-Level providers will be invited to bid for funding for specialist equipment to support the T-Level curriculum. The remaining £15 million of support funding will go towards the T-Level professional development (TLPD) programme to help prepare teachers for the delivery of the new qualifications. This will be delivered through the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), which has partnered with a firm called ‘FutureLearn’ to develop the elements of the TLDP that will be delivered online. More information is available at:


Earlier this month, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced a £24 million programme of support to help colleges recruit and retain FE teachers. The funding is part of (and not in addition to) the £400 million funding package announced last year by the former Chancellor, Sajid Javid. It will be used mainly to extend the ‘Taking Teaching Further’ programme, first delivered in 2018 in partnership with the ETF. Bursaries and grants will be made available to attract qualified and experienced people from industry to train to teach in FE priority subject areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), English and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) teaching. STEM bursaries will be worth £26,000, an English bursary will be worth £12,000, and a SEND bursary will be worth £15,000. Ironically the new bursary scheme is being introduced just a year after it was announced that the previous (almost identical) bursary scheme was being scrapped. This is thought to be because the DfE has finally begun to understand how difficult it will be to recruit FE teachers with the skills needed to deliver T-Levels, particularly at current FE salary levels. Thus far, the ‘Taking Teaching Further’ scheme has supported around 100 people to train to teach a range of technical subjects and the DfE says that this latest funding will support the recruitment of around 550 more (or, to put it in perspective, around 3 per college).  £3million of the funding will be used for mentor training programmes, which will also be designed and delivered by the ETF. The aim of this element of the programme is to improve retention by training mentors to support FE teachers in the early years of their careers. More information is available at:

And more information specifically about the ‘Taking Teaching Further’ scheme can be found at:


The DfE has revealed plans for the mandatory collection of data on the workforce of every directly-funded FE provider. Following a consultation last year, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will gather workforce records for 2020/21. Compliance will become mandatory in 2021/22 and sanctions will be imposed if providers fail to submit the required data. Data likely to be collected includes that on staff pay, age, gender, what qualifications they hold, and their contract type, and will encompass the whole workforce including both teaching and support staff. The DfE says that the data will be aggregated and will enable providers to ‘…benchmark themselves against one another’. Further information is available at:


Last October, Eileen Milner, the Chief Executive of the ESFA, sent a letter to all post-16 FE providers notifying them of impending rule changes in respect of subcontracting, along with a warning that the ESFA will take strong action against any provider that abuses the system. A copy of her letter can be found at:

Earlier this month, the DfE announced the launch of a consultation with post-16 providers ‘ inform our thinking about reforms to subcontracting arrangements’. The consultation will cover proposals to:

  • Strengthen provider monitoring and assessment of risk in order to identify problems earlier.
  • Enable the appropriate agencies to intervene more quickly and decisively.
  • Clarify subcontracting rules and requirements across all post-16 funding streams.
  • Reduce the overall volume of subcontracted activity in the sector.
  • Eliminate subcontracting that is undertaken for purely financial reasons.
  • Retain subcontracting that meets niche or specialised needs.
  • Place limits on the geographical distance between a directly funded institution and the location where subcontracted provision is delivered. (The Greater London Authority has already announced plans to withdraw funding from subcontracted provision delivered on behalf of 32 out-of-area colleges).
  • Place limits on how much funding can be subcontracted by a single provider.
  • Take action in the event of non-compliance, failure and fraud.

However, it is not expected that the ESFA will suggest imposing a cap on management fees. The consultation comes to an end on 17 March and the ESFA will begin to implement the changes to subcontracting rules from the start of 2020/21 academic year. A copy of the consultation document is at:


Skills Advisory Panels (SAPs) are local partnerships between employers, local authorities, universities, colleges and other training providers, formed to help Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) fulfil their local leadership role in helping provide the skills local businesses and workers need. There is speculation that the SAPs may be given a role in influencing, or even deciding which FE courses will be prioritised and funded in their area. 36 SAPs have so far been established across the country and in March last year they were all provided with £75,000 funding to ‘increase their local analytical capabilities to help them better understand current and future skills needs and local labour market challenges’. Earlier this month, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced that each SAP will receive a further £75,000 which will be used to enable them ‘…produce action plans and a Local Skills Report on they have supported local providers and employers to address local skills priorities and to provide evidence to support the new National Skills and Productivity Board when it is established later this year’. More information on SAPs and their funding is available at:

The government has also developed an analytical toolkit for SAPs to help them ‘…build robust evidence of local skills needs and wider labour market challenges and priorities, to help inform their local skills agenda’. A copy of the toolkit, which may be of interest to colleges when planning their courses, can be found at:


The DfE has released data which reveals that apprenticeship starts have decreased by 4.7% from 132,000 in Q1 of 2018/19 to 125,800 in Q1 of 2019/20. More information can be found at:


Following the launch of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, the number of apprenticeships starts has fallen to the extent that the government has now been forced to abandon its target of creating 3 million new apprenticeships between 2015 and 2020. Overall, the number of starts in 2018/19 was 23% lower than in 2015/16 (the last full year before the levy was introduced). However, within this decline in numbers there has been substantial variation. For example, there has been a 25% contraction in the numbers of 16-18-year olds starting apprenticeship programmes across all subject areas, and particularly at Level 2 which declined from 53% in 2016/17 to 37% in 2018/19. And between 2015/16 and 2018/19, while the number of apprentices age 25+ starting Level 2 programmes fell by 58% the number starting a Level 4+ programme grew by 158%. There has also been substantial regional variation with, for example, the North East, showing the highest rate of decline in the absolute numbers of apprentices, whilst ironically having a higher apprenticeship participation rate compared to London and the other regions in the South of England.  A study was recently undertaken by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Sheffield to identify the variations in the take-up of apprenticeships since 2016/17, by size of organisation, geographical region, level of apprenticeship and age, gender and ethnicity of apprentices. The report of the study has recently been published and a copy is available at:


The use of apprenticeship levy funding for delivering management and other higher-level qualifications has been criticised by the Ofsted’s Chief Inspector for England, Amanda Spielman, who said that levy funding should not be used to subsidise ‘re-packaged graduate schemes and MBAs’. The National Audit Office (NAO) has also raised serious concerns about employers replacing their existing professional development programmes and graduate training schemes with apprenticeships. And more recently, a report produced by the think tank EDSK entitled ‘Runaway Training’, claimed that £1.2 billion of public money had been wasted on ‘fake apprenticeships’. However, Jennifer Coupland, the new Chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has defended the right of employers to use public funding on management or other higher-level apprenticeships if they wished to do so. She agreed that while the levy is paid to the Treasury and is disbursed by the DfE, it is technically public funding, but said that in reality, levy funding ‘… is employers’ money that is collected directly from them to support their apprenticeships’. She went on to argue that if employers choose to spend the levy on management and other higher-level apprenticeships it was ‘a perfectly legitimate use’ of their levy funding. She also argued that since apprenticeships are intended to reflect the needs of the economy, this means not only having apprenticeship programmes at Level 2 and 3, but also having apprenticeship programmes at Level 4+.


An optional ILR field for recording apprentice off-the-job training hours apprentices was introduced in 2018/19. However, the ESFA has confirmed that, with effect from August 2020, a new mandatory individual learner record (ILR) field will be introduced in which all FE providers will be required to enter the actual off-the-job hours for apprentices who started new programmes on, or after, 1 August 2019. The introduction of the new ILR field follows concerns from the NAO and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about the scale of non-compliance with the 20% ‘off-the-job’ training requirement. More information is available in Section 2 of the ESFA publication ‘Inform 2020’, which is available at:

And a beta copy of the full ILR specification for 2020/21, published on 30 January 2020, can be found at:


Ofsted has published a consultation on its proposed approach to inspecting initial teacher education (ITE) with the aim of aligning this with both Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) and the DfE’s own standards and frameworks for ITE. The main proposals include the following:

  • Introducing a new ‘quality of education and training’ judgement, with a focus on the ITE curriculum
  • Applying a new methodology for gathering ITE inspection evidence.
  • A single four-day inspection visit, announced three days in advance.
  • Short and long telephone conversations as part of inspection preparation.
  • Spring and summer term inspections only.

The consultation is open for 10 weeks and will close on 3 April. Subject to the consultation findings, the new ITE inspection framework will be published in summer 2020 and introduced from September 2020, with inspections beginning in January 2021. A copy of the consultation document can be found at:


Following the Area Review process a number of colleges were merged. Thirteen of these merged colleges have been inspected for the first time since being formed and in the period following the introduction of the new Ofsted EIF in September this year. Of these, nine lost their pre-merger ‘good’ grade, while four failed to improve on their pre-merger ‘requires improvement’ grade.


The Headteachers’ Roundtable (which is ‘…a non-party political headteachers’ group operating as a think-tank to explore policy issues from a range of perspectives’) has resolved to formally request all school and college-based teachers to resign as Ofsted Additional Inspectors with immediate effect. They have called on all unions and other professional associations to recommend this action to members, with ‘…a view to securing fundamental reform of Ofsted’. The National Education Union (NEU) was the first to pledge its support for the campaign and is advising NEU members not to work for Ofsted as additional inspectors.


All local authority-maintained schools and academies in England have, since 2 January 2018, been legally obliged to give post-16 education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils in years 8 to 13 about technical qualifications and apprenticeships. The legal duty became law after the government adopted an amendment to the 2017 Technical and Further Education Act, proposed by former education secretary Lord Baker, who claimed schools (and especially those with their own post-16 offer) were resisting post-16 providers who tried to promote more vocational courses to pupils. In addition to providing access, schools must publish a policy statement on this online, as well as details about the careers programmes they offer, and how the success of these programmes is measured. However, the DfE has in the past seemed reluctant to take action against those schools that have failed to comply with this legal duty. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the DfE recently admitted that no action had been taken against any school failing to comply with the legislation in the period between 2 January 2018 and 2 January 2019. Following on from this, a YouGov survey commissioned by the independent training provider JTL released earlier this month found that only 11% of 15-18-year-olds had been encouraged by their school to take up an apprenticeship. One of Lord Agnew’s last duties as a DfE minister was to send headteachers another letter outlining their legal duties and warning of the sanctions for non-compliance. However, since he has now left the DfE it will be interesting to see how much notice headteachers take of it. A copy of the JTL survey findings is available at:


Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that the number of students studying HE programmes in FE colleges has fallen. Although overall enrolments on first degree courses in universities increased from 2,505,510 in 2014/15 to 2,629,435 in 2018/19, the number of enrolments on first degree courses in FE colleges decreased from 24,305 in 2014/15 to 21,620 in 2018/19. The number of students enrolling on other undergraduate courses, which include Higher National Qualifications, in FE colleges also fell over that period from 162,320 to 151,535. Some observers have argued that this is because since the introduction of the Office for Students (OfS) Register of Providers in 2017, FE colleges now face particular challenges in recruiting HE students. This is because, they say, the OfS fails recognise that colleges are very different to universities in terms of the type of students they recruit. In particular, HE students in FE are more likely be part-time, more mature, and more local. They also argue that whereas universities have whole teams of professional staff whose job it is to understand the OfS regulatory regime, FE colleges will be limited in terms the resources they can afford to dedicate to the HE application process. However, if an institution’s application to be listed on the register is rejected by the OfS, it effectively prevents HE provision being offered at that institution and concerns have now been raised about the potential negative impact the OfS registration system has on opportunities for access to HE for ‘non-traditional’ learners. The HESA data on HE recruitment in FE colleges can be found at:


A report published earlier this month by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) entitled ‘Unheard: the voices of part-time adult learners’, says that between 2011/12 and 2017/18, there was a 60% contraction part-time HE numbers and that if the decline is to be reversed universities and colleges ‘..must become more flexible’ in their approach. HEPI says that there are three main areas of concern. These are:

  • Obstacles faced by those who are working and who also have family and/or other caring responsibilities.
  • Many adults said that they couldn’t afford the fees alongside paying rent or a mortgage.
  • Many adults who had enrolled on to part-time courses said that they were very anxious about going back into education, but they were treated in the same way as younger full-time students, often attending the same classes.

Seemingly oblivious to the fee differentials, HEPI singles out England, which it says lags behind other parts of the UK in supporting part-time adult HE students. A copy of the HEPI report can be found at:


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has developed a free course on Covid-19. The course will start on 23 March and be delivered through the online learning specialist ‘FutureLearn’. Course content will cover such things understanding the disease and how to help prevent it spreading. It is said to be likely to be of interest to health, care, education and other professionals. The course will run over a three week period and will require approximately four hours of study per week. More information is available at:


A man with no relevant qualifications or experience duped the DfE into believing he was qualified to set up and run an Academy Chain. Johnson Kane claimed to have been a director of John Lewis when in fact he had only worked as a salesman. He also claimed that he had been appointed to the board of the British Airports Authority by the government and, although had worked for the BAA as a commercial services director for 18 months having lied about his qualifications, he was never on the board. Despite this, in 2012 Mr Kane co-founded the Education Fellowship Trust, an academy chain comprised of 12 primary and secondary schools based in Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire and received a salary of £160,000 a year as Chief Executive. However, after several failed Ofsted inspections and with a number of the schools being £millions in debt, in 2017 the trust (with around 6,500 pupils) was taken over. Files from an Information Rights Tribunal released earlier this month show that the DfE failed to check Mr Kane’s credentials or to handle whistle blower disclosures properly. More on the story can be found at:


An FE college Principal was determined to increase her college’s income by engaging in more international activity. After careful analysis of the opportunities for recruiting overseas students, she decided that a trip to Brazil would offer the most potential for her college. The exotic location, the great beaches and the opportunity to top up her tan did not, she insisted, affect her decision making in any way. Having arrived in a disappointing light drizzle, she duly spent a number of dismal days trailing round insipid student recruitment agencies and visiting schools in remote areas of the country. On visiting yet another school, she reluctantly accepted an invitation to attend a traditional Brazilian drumming competition that evening, although she would have much preferred to stay in her hotel bar. But she went along, and as the evening progressed she found herself drawn to the intoxicating beat of the drums. By the finale of the competition she was hooked, and once back at college, she lost no time in getting her Head of Performing Arts to set up a Brazilian drumming competition. He was also tasked with organising a college team and inviting other local colleges and schools to compete. The competition was surprisingly well subscribed and well attended, and whatever it may have lacked in bronzed bodies, sandy beaches and big statues of redeemers, it made up for in sheer enthusiasm, as evidenced in the competitors’ Brazil inspired flamboyant dress styles. By the time of the competition finale, her own college group was among the favourites to win. Calling themselves the ‘Rhythm Sticks’, they put on a stunning display and were confident of lifting the trophy. However, a group from another college, called the ‘Funky Favelas’, simply blew the judges away. Their drumming may have been mediocre, but they made up for it with their dress creations, which included carefully placed feathers and thongs, and even a senior manager wearing a mankini, all of which saw them bringing a real Rio-style carnival feel to the event. The result was announced, the Favelas had won, and smarting from losing the competition, a scuffle broke out between the Rhythm Sticks and the Favelas which was only broken up by the arrival of the police. The negative publicity in the local media was bad enough, but the Principal was further dismayed when, a week later, she received a solicitor’s letter which alleged that one of the Favelas had been hit by a Rhythm Stick and was claiming personal Ian Dury compensation.

Once again, I thank (and you can blame) James Hampton, former Principal of Yeovil College and former Chair of Bournemouth and Poole College, for this shaggiest of shaggy dog stories.

Alan Birks – February 2020

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