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Apprenticeships are paid jobs which incorporate on and off the job training. Apprentices have the same rights as other employees and are entitled to be paid at least the apprentice rate of the national minimum wage. Over 800,000 apprentices participated on an apprenticeship in the 2017 to 2018 academic year.

Skills and training are devolved policy areas. This Briefing Paper covers apprenticeships in England. Sources of information on apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are included in Section 3, Useful Sources.

The paper has been updated with a section that outlines the Government response to the Coronavirus outbreak in relation to the apprenticeship programme.This outlines the measures that had been put in place by 2 June 2020. Any measures that have been put in place since then will not be included.

Coronavirus response

Guidance for apprentices

The ESFA intend to support apprentices to continue and complete their apprenticeships wherever possible. If necessary, they are encouraged to make use of digital or distance-learning tools if practicable to do so.

From 15th June, training providers have been told they should offer some face-to-face contact for 16-19 year old apprentices where possible and practical, although remote training should remain the predominant form of training. The guidance suggests that priority for face-to-face contact may be given to those apprentices who:

  • Are on the first year of an apprenticeship.
  • Require face-to-face training to help them complete their apprenticeship.
  • Have upcoming key assessment dates.

Providers can have face-to-face contact with older apprentices, but have been asked to prioritise those aged 16-19.

End point assessments

End point assessments should take place remotely where possible.

Temporary discretions or flexibilities have been put in place for some apprenticeship standards to ensure the end point assessment can take place. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has provided a list of the standards where these changes have been put in place.

A temporary measure has also been put in place that enables apprentices to take their end point assessment ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualifications (FSQ) later on in the summer.

Apprentices who are ready for assessment, but cannot be assessed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, will be able to have their end-point assessment rescheduled. The guidance states that, at the current time, the ESFA will not consider awarding an apprenticeship without an end-point assessment.

Breaks in learning

There are various reasons why the apprentice may need to take a break in learning. The apprentice may be ill or having to self-isolate, or they may have been deployed to a different role which no longer supports the apprenticeship. Alternatively, the training provider may not be in a position to provide training or assessment. During a break in learning, an apprentice does not need to meet the minimum 20% off-the-job training requirement, although the 20% minimum off-the-job requirement will still need to be met across the length of the apprenticeship.

Existing apprenticeship funding rules allow for breaks in learning. If the break is less than 4 weeks then the end-date of the apprenticeship remains the same. If it is more than 4 weeks then a formal break in learning must be reported, and the planned end-date will be re-planned when the apprentice returns to learning.

A temporary measure that has been introduced as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak is that employers and training providers are able to set in place a break in learning. Previously, only the apprentice themselves were able to do this.

Any apprentices who continue to work will continue to be paid, even if they have a break in learning.

A break in learning may also be necessary if the apprentice is furloughed, placed on unpaid leave or made redundant.

Furlough and redundancy

Furloughed apprentices will be paid 80% of their usual wages (up to £2,500), even if this is less than the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage (NLW/NMW). Apprentices can continue their apprenticeship whilst furloughed if the provider can deliver training remotely. Where training does continue, at the request of their employer, then the apprentice is entitled to be paid at least the NLW/NMW.

If an apprentice is made redundant, then their training provider must support them to find another employer. The ESFA will aim to support them to find alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible, and within 12 weeks. The ESFA will keep the 12-week period under review and may extend it.

In a scenario where a large number of apprentices are made redundant from the same employer, the ESFA will aim to provide support to the apprentices and training providers to secure them alternative employers.

Funding support is available to support apprentices who are made redundant. If the apprentice is within 6 months of the final day of training then the ESFA will fund all the remaining training costs, unless they find a new employer with whom they can complete their apprenticeship (and who will assume outstanding liabilities from that point). If they have more than 6 months remaining, then the ESFA will fund training costs for a 12 week period.

If an apprentice is made redundant and a new employer is not found within 12 weeks, then the apprentice will be withdrawn from the apprenticeship.

Apprentices may be entitled to access Universal Credit during a period of unpaid leave, and may be eligible for other benefits.

Guidance for employers

Businesses that employ apprentices will be able to access the measures that have been put in place to support businesses. This means that a business will be able to get support to claim for 80% of a furloughed apprentice’s salary (up to £2,500 per month) through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If an employer requests that a furloughed apprentice continue their training, then the employer will need to pay the apprentice the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage as a minimum. If this is greater than 80% of their wages, then the employer will be expected to cover the remainder of their wages.

A new measure has been put in place that enables an employer, temporarily, to initiate a break in learning. Previously, only the learner could initiate such a break. The employer may need to do this if they have to deploy the apprentice to a different role that does not support their apprenticeship, or if they need to furlough the apprentice or put them on a period of unpaid leave.

Employer who pay the apprenticeship levy will continue to pay their monthly levy payments, and the ESFA do not intend to increase the time available to employers to spend their levy funds.

Payments for employers who hire new apprentices

In July the Government announced the Plan for Jobs 2020, including £1.6 billion in support for boosting worksearch, skills and apprenticeships. This will include a new payment to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire: £2,000 for each apprentice under 25, and £1,500 for each apprentice aged 25 and over from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021. This payment will be in addition to the £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies

Guidance for training providers

Training providers have been encouraged to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning as far as practicable.

From 15th June, training providers have been told they should offer some face-to-face contact for 16-19 year old apprentices where possible and practical, although remote training should remain the predominant form of training. Providers can have face-to-face contact with older apprentices, but have been asked to prioritise those aged 16-19.

If they can’t deliver training then the provider can put in place a break in learning. Previously only the learner could initiate such a break.

If an apprentice is made redundant, then the training provider must support the apprentice to find another employer.

Training providers are paid retrospectively for the training they deliver, meaning that if there is a break in an apprentice’s learning they will not be paid for the duration of the break. This continues to be the case. The Government will not allow payment for services in advance of delivery.

The ESFA also “reserve the right to recover payment” for payments made to training providers in March for training that has not been delivered and cannot be delivered in the future.

The ESFA guidance directs training providers who have lost income to the measures that have been put in place to support businesses.

Training providers criticised the measures that were put in place.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (SELP) published a statement calling on the government to “urgently rethink its stance” and suggested that otherwise many independent training providers (ITPs) would go out of business over the next three months.

In the statement, they compared the funding support that has been provided for mainstream FE provision with the support that has provided for ITPs. Further education providers will be paid scheduled payments for the rest of the 2019/20 academic year.

It has been reported that 70% of training for apprenticeships is provided by private providers.

Provider Relief Scheme

On the 24 April the ESFA introduced a provider relief scheme which will provide financial support to some providers. To be eligible a provider “must hold a direct contract that was procured as a service under Public Contract Regulations 2015”. The guidance clarifies that this will include training provided to non-levy paying employers who have met various requirements (see section 6 of the guidance).

Further detail on the relief scheme was provided by the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister in a webinar with FE Week. The Minister said that the only exception from the business support measures that are available to all businesses is the Supplier relief announced by the Cabinet Office, which the Minister reports was directed at critical suppliers to the government (for example companies that operate prison services). It was subsequently realised that this included the contracts for apprenticeship training for delivery to smaller employers who do not pay the levy.

In response, the AELP published a further statement that welcomed this support, but also that they were “left with no choice but to take legal advice on the omission of support for apprentices being trained at levy paying employers.”. In the statement they also report that the relief scheme would not provide support for over half of the ITPs and colleges training current apprentices.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning have subsequently sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Education and the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister asking them to extend the scheme more widely.

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister has stated that it is not possible to extend eligibility.

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