So, the big news this month is that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has just rolled out the latest batch of rules for apprenticeship funding. Here, we delve into what this means for you and how these changes are being put into action for 2023-24. 

The new rules build on last year’s changes which add flexibility and continue to encourage collaboration, making sure there’s consistent documentation and dialogue between the employer and provider to ultimately support the apprentices and achieve better learning outcomes. 

There are eight key areas to this year’s ESFA funding guidance changes. Here is the breakdown – and remember HIT is right here by your side to provide all the necessary support!

1. The employer

  •  It does not have to be the apprentice’s line manager that signs their documentation on behalf of the employer. This may help facilitate the apprenticeship sign-up/enrolment process if the manager is not available to sign the learner documentation and the employer is able to provide someone to sign on behalf of the organisation.

2. Initial Assessment

  • If the employer is unable to attend the initial assessment, the provider must give them the opportunity to contribute and must send them the relevant information after the meeting for review and signature. This gives flexibility if the employer is unable to attend.
  • The initial assessment must include all parties agreeing the recognition of prior learning and how all parties will work together to achieve the apprenticeship.
  • The discussion must also include confirmation of the price of the apprenticeship, so that it is clear to the employer from the outset how much they must contribute.
  • The employer must agree to take part or provide input to progress reviews. The option of providing support has been added to allow for occasions when the employer is unable to attend.

3. Apprenticeship agreement

  • The apprenticeship agreement must cover the actual duration. If an apprentice goes past their planned end date, they must have their apprenticeship agreement extended to when they now expect to complete, and this must be signed by the employer and the apprentice.
  • The apprentice cannot sign the apprenticeship agreement as the employer.
  • An incomplete or unsigned apprenticeship agreement is deemed invalid. This will be  considered a funding error if found at audit.

4. Apprentice Wages

  • The employer must pay the apprentice a lawful wage, i.e. at least the legal minimum wage. We must confirm with the employer this is the case, and we do this by having an employer signed training plan.

5. Duration, Off The Job (OTJ) and the training plan

  • Where an apprentice works less than 30 hours per week, you must still extend the planned duration accordingly. However, they can now complete their programme once they have met the minimum duration, provided they have met the minimum off the job hours for their actual duration.
  • You may be familiar with the rule that previously stated that if the actual OTJ training was less than planned, a statement had to be signed by the apprentice and the employer to agree to the difference. Now the statement is only required when the duration is shorter than planned AND hours are less than planned.
  •  Some active learning, OTJ or English or maths, must take place every calendar month. Previously it was every four weeks. This applies to all apprentices, irrespective of their start date. This allows flexibility for busy periods for employers, e.g. Christmas where now there can be learning in early December and in mid or late January and it will be compliant. A break in learning must be used where there is no plan for any active learning in a calendar month, except term time only contracts.
  • The training plan must be agreed before any training is delivered. However, if the provider is unable to obtain a signature of the employer by the start date, they can, by exception, accept an email confirmation from the employer on the start date and obtain the employer’s signature within 42 days of starting. But this is an exception and should not be the general policy.

6. Progress reviews

  • Progress reviews now must be completed at least four times a year, rather than every 12 weeks as it was in 2022/23. This applies to all apprentices, irrespective of their start date. There is also the option to agree an alternative frequency with the employer, provided there is an evidenced delivery reason for this. Clearly you should not agree an alternative that would be unsuitable for the programme or disadvantage the apprentice.
  • If the employer is unable to attend a progress review, they must be given the opportunity to contribute. They must also be sent relevant information after the meeting, for review and signature. This allows flexibility where the employer is unable to attend, but do not lose sight of needing to obtain the employer’s confirmation that they have been informed of the content of the review.

7. EPA

  • If an apprentice changes employer, including where the job role is not related to the apprenticeship, they may complete EPA if it can satisfactorily be taken and paid for.
  • An apprentice can change EPAO after EPA has started, if the employer and provider agree to it.
  • Apprenticeship providers will be responsible for choosing the EPAO for an employer unless the employer wishes to continue to select the EPAO themselves.

8. Subsidy control

  • For small employers, the waiving of the employer contribution for fully funded apprentices may be considered subsidy. The provider is still expected to ensure the employer completes a subsidy control declaration, and now the provider must supply the employer with a declaration to use.

There you have it, a summary of the key changes to the rules that affect you the employer whether you’re a seasoned pro or just stepping into the world of apprenticeships.

Remember these changes are here to make your role clearer and more effective – and remember HIT is right here beside you, ready to be your partner every step of the way!

If you’re feeling a bit puzzled about how apprenticeships get their funding, take a look at our comprehensive guide ‘Funding to Fire Up Your Business’