|Reflections on the AELP National Conference|
By Steve Smith, Managing Director
“The AELP national conference in London is always a key date in our calendar. This year we attended as exhibitors for the first time and were also invited to host a workshop where we presented on ‘The Key drivers to EPA success – what does great end-point assessment really look like’. This turned into a very useful discussion where we explored with attendees the factors that drive the best EPA experience for apprentices, employers and providers alongside our provider partner James McIntosh from CATCH.
“As usual there were some very insightful presentations and discussions on the main stage and for me there are a number of key takeaways..
“I was particularly pleased to hear the Skills Minister, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, announce the long-awaited conclusion to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IfATE) exceptional funding bands review. The review, announced in November 2022, was a long time coming, and much needed by the sector. Funding band uplifts were announced for 10 apprenticeship standards including two key Engineering standards which form part of our current EPA portfolio at SIAS.
“Although the outcome of this review was of course welcomed by me and many others, there clearly remains frustration in the sector at how long the review took, we still have nearly 50% of the original standards in the exceptional review deferred by employers to a wider and more drawn-out review. We need a much more responsive approach to reviewing standards and a funding model that properly factors in all eligible costs including those relating to end-point assessment.
“On day two the Shadow Skills Minister, Toby Perkins MP, gave more information about Labour’s plans for a Growth and Skills Levy which would be a radical shift in the current Levy model – under Labour’s plans levy paying employers will be able to spend 50% of their contribution on non-apprenticeship courses, with at least 50% needing to be spent on apprenticeships. There was some concern in initial feedback at the conference that this level of flexibility in the levy would see non-levy payers squeezed out of the apprenticeship budget, and saw calls from some key stakeholders for any reforms to proceed with caution. I do feel a cautious and highly targeted approach is the right one if radical changes to the Levy are introduced but overall I welcome greater flexibility for Employers and Providers in what skills interventions they choose to fund in and around their apprenticeship offering.
“The Shadow Minister did however also make a clear commitment that “there will be no reduction in the amount of funding available to fund non-levy payers’ apprenticeship funding”, a commitment which would provide security for non-levy payers wanting to continue taking on apprentices, again an important clarification but the implementation of that commitment will be potentially interesting in an environment in which funding is becoming increasingly challenging.”
All in all a fantastic couple of days, lots to think over and we’re now planning ahead ready for Autum conference in Manchester.”