Are you using your apprenticeship levy funding?

Most schools are paying the apprenticeship levy. If you don’t use what you’ve paid in, you’ll lose it

Author details

Liz Worthen is the head of content at Optimus Education. Starting her career as a secondary school English teacher, Liz has since worked in education resource and CPD programme management. She has a particular interest in workforce development...

The apprenticeship levy came into force in April 2017, with a view to increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships and support the development of vocational skills (see Apprenticeship levy: what you need to need to know for further background detail).

But one year after the levy came into force, only 10 percent of the funds available to employers have been used, and the Government is a long way off its target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Why does this matter for schools? Well, the DfE has estimated that over 16,000 schools (three quarters of the total) are paying a combined apprenticeship levy of around £110 million.

If only 10% of that is being used, that’s a lot of untapped funding. To make matters worse, un-used funds expire 24 months after they enter your digital apprenticeship service account. For example, funds entering your account in September 2017 would expire in September 2019.

So, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

What are the barriers?

The term ‘apprentice’ itself can be a barrier, carrying associations with low-skilled work for young people. But in fact, there are no age restrictions on eligibility for apprenticeships funding, and the term can cover professional development up to level 7 (postgraduate level).

For example, just within the area of school business management there are a range of relevant apprenticeships available.

  • Business administrator (level 3)
  • School business professional (level 4)
  • Chartered manager (degree) (level 6)
  • Senior leader master’s degree apprenticeship (level 7)

See the Institute for Apprenticeships for a full list of current apprenticeships.

Time and availability

While a range of apprenticeships exists in theory, in practice it can be a challenge to find appropriate local providers. Nicola Gay, HR manager at Ocean Learning Trust in Bournemouth, has struggled to find enough relevant courses to spend their levy funds.

Researching the training offered takes time

They have nine staff who have completed or are currently engaged with a course, all teaching assistant apprenticeships at level 2 and 3. ‘It’s a small part of our staff development strategy. However, it has assisted with a recruitment issue in some of our schools, as we can enhance a lower level role with apprenticeship training,’ says Nicola.

It does take time though. ‘As the levy is paid in the name of the MAT, there is a requirement to administer the entire fund centrally – there’s no opportunity to administer it locally in each school.  This requires frequent correspondence with headteachers and senior leaders, with reminders re availability of courses and so on. Researching the training offered also takes time.’

Nicola also said that she’d love to see a teacher apprenticeship. So far there’s a graduate-entry teacher apprenticeship on offer (which in practice is very similar to a School Direct route), but development on a route for those who don’t already hold a degree has halted.

Navigating the rules

There are some important parameters to be aware of (see Apprenticeship funding and performance management rules for a full list).

  • 20 percent of the apprentice’s time must be spent on off-the-job training. This training should take place during employed time and must be directly relevant to the apprenticeship framework.
  • The minimum duration of an apprenticeship is one year. Beware fixed term contracts that do not cover the full duration of the training programme.
  • The minimum duration is based on a 30 hour working week. If an apprentice works fewer than 30 hours a week, you need to extend the minimum duration to take account of this.

Pay attention to these rules when considering apprenticeships for teaching assistants who are employed on term-time only contracts. Check with your chosen provider for eligibility.

Which leads on to another potential barrier.

Finding a trusted provider

How do you select a good training provider? Amy Lalla from apprenticeships provider Let Me Play shares this guidance.

  1. Have they had an Ofsted inspection or monitoring visit for their apprenticeship delivery? If so, ask to see the report.
  2. Have they had an ESFA monitoring visit or audit? If so, ask to see the report.
  3. Are they financially secure? Look at their accounts. (This question is more relevant for private training providers rather than big colleges or universities.)
  4. For private training providers, know who the owners and directors are and their involvement in the business. Know who is accountable.
  5. What does their organisation chart look like?  You will want to see they have the right people in place to manage quality and compliance.
  6. What quality assurance systems and controls do they have in place?
  7. How do they plan and manage the 20 percent off the job training rule?
  8. Do they have an end-point assessment organisation they can recommend? 
  9. Who is the tutor? Have a look at their CV.
  10. Will any part of the provision be sub-contracted? If the answer is yes, ask the same set of questions!
  11. What previous experience do you have in delivering this course? (Or something similar as a lot of the standards are new).

Questions to consider

Use these questions to stimulate thinking about how to take apprenticeships forward as part of your staff development strategy.

  • Who's responsible for apprenticeships in your school, trust or organisation? What involvement does your CPD lead have in apprenticeships? Are apprenticeships considered as part of your talent management or staff development strategy?
  • Do you know anyone locally that's successfully deploying apprentices? Can you ask for advice and recommendations?
  • What capacity or skills challenges do you face that could be solved through an apprenticeship for a new or existing employee?
  • What are your barriers to using your levy funding? What can you do to get over them?

Top tips from training provider Let Me Play (LMP)

  1. Upskill current staff and consider an apprenticeship as part of CPD.
  2. There are employer national insurance savings to be made for under 25s who are apprentices. Utilise this.
  3. Look for added value from your training provider. What else can they offer?
  4. Use tools such as LMP’s funding apprenticeships calculator to plan best use of your funding.
  5. Link your funding to other grants, such as the sport pupil premium.
  6. Before recruiting, consider if you can hire as an apprentice.
  7. Think differently. For example, can you upskill someone to support your marketing to attract more students?

Further reading

Schools to ‘grow their own’ teachers with PGCE apprenticeships

Last Updated: 
06 Mar 2019