Ascentis funding information and advice for FE and skills providers

For providers in the further education and skills sector in England, understanding how education and training programmes are funded and resourced can be difficult to comprehend, and often require frequent updating.

On the following pages, Ascentis will provide you with a brief overview of the fundamentals of the funding landscape and system, and highlight the key differences between the funding of young people and adults in the different settings for learning, including classroom and work-based learning.

In addition to these pages, our offer of webinars, blogs, workshops and conferences will provide regular updates on funding and funding-related issues.

The role of the ESFA

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) brings together the former responsibilities of the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to create a single agency responsible for the funding of education and skills for children, young people and adults in England.

Following the review of respective DfE and ESFA functions in 2022, the ESFA will continue to oversee funding for the education and training sector and to provide funding guidance and advice, value for money assurance over the use of funds and insolvency support. Other functions, including policy and intervention, will move over to the DfE.

Learning funded by the ESFA

In relation to young people aged 16 and over and adults of all ages, the ESFA funds learners studying nationally recognised qualifications, such as GCSEs and A Levels, technical and vocational qualifications, including the new T Levels, and other learning aims that may not lead to nationally recognised qualifications, i.e. non-regulated learning aims.

All learners must meet certain criteria to be eligible to be funded, e.g. residency in England, and the qualifications they undertake must also be eligible for funding.

Currently, there are reviews of qualifications at level 2 and below, and at level 3, particularly of technical and vocational qualifications, and some qualifications will no longer be eligible to be publicly funded. Providers are advised to always check with Ascentis to ensure that their programmes are still fundable.

The latest information on available qualifications, apprenticeship standards, T levels and units can be found on Finding a Learning Aim.

For example, the Ascentis Level 1 Award in Essential Digital Skills for Work and Life is eligible for funding for young people aged 16-19 and for adults aged 19 and over as part of the digital entitlement.

Funding for young people aged 16-19 years

For young people in maintained schools, academies, colleges, and other learning settings, including Independent Specialist Providers, the ESFA is responsible for the funding of their programmes of learning up to the age of 19, and for 19-25 year old learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Following Professor Wolf’s review of vocational education in 2011, programmes of learning for 16-19 year olds known as study programmes were introduced, and these should provide young people with opportunities to progress to further study, including higher education, employment, apprenticeships and to independent living.

Study programmes contain the following elements, depending on the learners’ start points and expected destinations:

  • Core programme of academic or vocational qualifications that stretch the learners and prepare them for progression to further study, employment or apprenticeships, e.gA levels and GCSEs, level 2 and 3 certificates and diplomas
  • English and maths if the learners have not yet achieved these at GCSE grade 4 to 9
  • Tutorial, enrichment and other non-qualification activities to support their personal and character development
  • Work experience or industry placements to give learners the opportunity to develop work related skills and broaden their career aspirations

The ESFA funds the whole of a study programme undertaken by a 16-19 year old learner based on the total planned hours for all elements in an academic year, with an expectation that the average length of programme will be over 600 hours per year (more for the new T levels) for a full time learner. For a 16 or 17 year old on a study programme (not T level), the maximum funding band is 5 at a minimum of 580* annual planned hours and the national rate for that learner before any uplifts would be £4542*. Higher band values (6 to 9) are attached to T level learners whose programmes are also planned to last two years.

*The base rate of funding was increased by 8.4% for 2022 to 2023 and the minimum number of planned hours for each funding band was also increased by 40 hours per year.

Fig 1 Study Programme bands for 2022 to 2023

Band

Annual planned hours

Category

Funding rate per student £

5

580 plus

16 and 17 year-old students.

Students aged 18 and over with high needs.

 

4542

4a

 

4b

485 plus

 

485 - 579

Students aged 18 and over who are not high needs.

16 and 17 year olds and students aged 18 and over with high needs.

 

3757

3

385 - 484

All students

3056

2

300 - 384

All students

2416

1

Up to 299 hours

All students

Proportion of 4542

For those learners who have not yet achieved GCSE English and maths grades 4 to 9, it is a condition of funding that the young person continues to study them up to achieving them at these grades. For some learners, Functional Skills qualifications in English and maths may be more appropriate.

The funding for young people on study programmes and T levels is allocated to providers on the basis of their learner numbers on a lagged basis and the characteristics of their learners and programmes, so additional funding is available for high cost and value subjects such as engineering and construction, for learners on level 3 programmes who have not yet achieved at least a grade 4 in GCSE English or maths, for learning support including for learners with high needs, and for financial support for learners. 

Ascentis’ short online qualification offer to young people includes courses which can be used for induction, to enrich their study programme and provide useful life skills, e.g. Ascentis Level 1 Award in Mental Health and Well-being.

The latest rules and guidance for using 16 to 19 formula funding allocated by ESFA can be found on 16-19 education: funding guidance.

The latest information on 16 to 19 funding which show the changes ESFA are making for 16 to 19 funding for the academic year 2022 to 2023 and to provide you with the latest updates can be found on 16 to 19 funding: information for 2022 to 2023.

The funding rates and the formula used in the funding arrangements for 16 to 19 year olds can be found at Funding guidance for young people 2022 to 2023: funding rates and formula.

Funding for adult learners – the Adult Education Budget

The Adult Education Budget (AEB) funds education and training for learners aged 19 years and over. The AEB is managed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) outside of devolved areas, and by Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) in devolved areas (for learners resident in these areas).

The AEB funds a wide range of learning aims and programmes for adults, including nationally recognised qualifications, as well as quality assured non-qualification activities. The range extends to skills provision for the unemployed, workplace learning, traineeships, community learning and independent living skills. It also funds learning support for adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and discretionary learner support for adults facing financial difficulties.

Some of the learning aims and programmes form part of the fully funded national entitlements for adults aged 19-23 years who have not yet achieved the equivalent of 5 GCSEs (free level 2 offer) or 2 A levels (free level 3 offer), e.g. Ascentis Level 3 Access to HE Diploma Childhood Studies. The legal entitlement for 19-23 year old adults without their first level 2 or 3 means that these learners do not have to find 50% of the basic cost of the course as a tuition fee, so removing a potential barrier to participation.

Since April 2021 the free level 3 offer has included adults aged 24 and over who have not yet achieved their first full level 3 qualification, which is equivalent to a technical certificate or diploma, or 2 full A levels. They are able to access hundreds of fully funded courses but only in specific sector subject areas, e.g. engineering, construction, logistics, health and social care, science, ICT, hospitality and catering. From April 2022 the free level 3 offer has been extended to include unemployed or low waged adults even if they are already qualified at level 3 and above as long as they enrol on the level 3 adult offer qualifications approved for funding with effect from 1 April 2022.

Adults who have not yet achieved GCSE English and maths at grade 4, and those who are assessed at below level 1 in Essential Digital Skills, are also entitled to study these subjects, including approved stepping stone learning aims and units, without having to pay tuition fees. Unemployed learners of all ages as well as employed adults on low wages (less than £18,525 annual gross salary for 2022 to 2023) who cannot contribute towards the cost of co-funding fees, are also fully funded.

Adult ESOL learners are normally co-funded and so would have to pay a contribution to the tuition fee, unless they are unemployed or on a low wage. There are other situations where ESOL learners may be fully funded, e.g. under devolved authority arrangements or discretions for other state benefits, but always check with your management information or funding compliance team.

Under AEB local flexibilities providers can offer adults bespoke locally designed learning, that can include both qualifications and non-regulated learning, to support progression to full level 2, to retrain and upskill learners already in receipt of level 2 or above, or, to refocus or restart a career if unemployed, e.g. Ascentis entry level 3 award in Skills for Employment.

Adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are also entitled to learning support funding to help them complete their learning programmes. This is funded at a fixed rate of £150 per month for each month the support is provided. Should support costs more than £150 in a month, this can also be claimed as excess learning support from the ESFA or devolved authority.

Adult education budget (AEB) funding rules 2022 to 2023 sets out the rules that apply to ESFA funded AEB for the 2022 to 2023 funding year.

AEB funding for qualifications or learning aims is determined by the ‘single activity matrix’ which measures their funding value in guided learning or total qualification hours and the programme weighting for the qualification, e.g. Ascentis entry level 3 award in Essential Digital Skills at £300 for 50 hours.

Figure 2 AEB Single Activity Matrix for 2022 to 2023 funding year

Funding

Some qualifications have their funding values set as a matter of policy, e,g. GCSEs, A levels Functional Skills and Access to HE Diplomas, e.g. Ascentis Access to HE Diplomas is funded at a base rate of £3,022.

Figure 3 Qualifications that have their funding band set as a matter of policy

Funding

Non-regulated learning and RARPA

Providers may wish to offer non-regulated learning because of the characteristics of their learners, e.g.  learners with special education needs, pre-entry learners, learners furthest way from learning or the labour market.

Such learning could include

  • independent living skills or engagement learning supporting adults to operate confidently and effectively in life and work
  • locally commissioned and/or locally developed basic knowledge and skills needed to access technical qualifications
  • employability and labour market re-entry
  • locally commissioned and/or locally devised technical education short courses (also known as taster sessions)
  • community learning courses
  • basic digital skills courses, including where learners are unable to undertake digital skills qualifications specified in the digital entitlement.

For non-regulated learning there are several eligibility principles which providers must observe:

  • It must not be provision linked to UK visa requirements
  • It must not be provision linked to occupational regulation unless there is an agreed concession in place
  • It must not be restricted to being delivered to employees of only one employer
  • It must not be learning, for example, ‘induction to college’, that should be part of a learner’s experience
  • It must not be a non-regulated version of a regulated qualification
  • It must not be above notional level 2
  • At notional level 2 it must focus on technical provision.

Where you are delivering non-regulated learning, you must ensure you have appropriate and robust quality assurance processes in place.

Recognising and Recording Progress and Achievement (RARPA) can provide this assurance and Ascentis can help you establish this process and advise on how best to manage it.

Figure 4 Six-step RARPA process (LWI 2017)

Step 1

Aims meeting the needs of individuals and communities

 

Step 2

Starting points for learners accurately assessed

 

Step 3

Challenging learning objectives set and aligned with local priorities

 

Step 4

Feedback to learners on their progress

 

Step 5

End-assessment is in place, accurately recorded with evidence and certification

 

Step 6

Learner progression is actively monitored, e.g. to further learning, employment, volunteering

In terms of management information and audit the same rigour in analysis and collation of achievements and outcomes is required for non-regulated provision as for regulated qualifications. Where appropriate this should include outcomes gathered from sample post course reviews. Stage one of the RARPA process integrates outcomes required to meet local needs and effective collation of achievements and supports evidence reporting for the ESFA and devolved authorities. The sixth stage can also be a recurrent theme of the first five stages in ensuring learners make progress to their chosen destinations. From pre-enrolment advice and guidance to final assessment, providers should be focused on the purpose of the learning programme for the individual and how it will enable them to move onto the next stage of their lives.

Devolution of the AEB

From August 2019, Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) have been given responsibility for funding adult education in their local areas, so the approach to this budget will now be based on each particular region’s education and training needs for learners aged 19 and over.

For 2022 to 2023 the AEB is devolved to the following MCAs and through a delegation agreement to the Mayor of London for the Greater London Authority (GLA):

  • Greater Manchester
  • Liverpool City Region
  • West Midlands
  • Tees Valley
  • West of England
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Greater London
  • North of Tyne
  • Sheffield City Region
  • West Yorkshire

Although the devolved areas apply the national funding rules, rates and formula in most part, they do have powers to set their own funding and performance management rules, e.g. GLA sets higher funding rates for English and maths qualifications and a higher threshold for the low wage waiver.

Devolved authorities can set their own priorities for skills development and reflect this in a range of procurement arrangements. If providers are delivering to eligible adults in a devolved area, they will have to manage separate contracts for nationally funded programmes such as traineeships or to residents living outside the devolved authority, and the devolved AEB.

Funding for adult learners – advanced learner loans

Advanced learner loans are available to adults to meet the costs of tuition on a range of approved qualifications at levels 3 to 6. Individuals aged 19 and over on the first day of their learning aim are eligible for loans.

They are not means-tested and so remove a barrier to participation for adult learners. Learners are entitled to access up to four loans, which they can take out either one after the other, or at the same time.

Where a provider accesses direct AEB funding to deliver a first full Level 3 qualification to a learner who is aged 19 to 23, or to a learner aged 24 and over under the level 3 adult offer, a learner cannot access a loan for the same qualification delivered at the same time.

The Student Loans Company pays the provider on a monthly basis for the individual learner as long as the learner is retained and the provider can also draw down additional support funding for the learner to cover costs of childcare or learning support from the loans bursary fund.

Ascentis offers a suite of level 3 Access to HE Diplomas which are approved for advanced learner loans in several subject areas including Education, Childhood Studies, Science and Humanities.

The advanced learner loans funding and performance management rules for the 2022 to 2023 funding year can be found at Advanced learner loans funding rules 2022 to 2023.

The rules apply to all providers of education and training who hold a loans facility and loans bursary fund agreement with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). This agreement allows providers to receive loans payments from the Student Loans Company (SLC) on behalf of learners and loans bursary payments from ESFA.

Apprenticeship funding

An apprenticeship is a job with training. Through an apprenticeship, an apprentice will gain the technical knowledge, practical experience and wider skills and behaviours that they need for their immediate job and future career.

The apprentice gains this through:  formal off-the-job training (which is fundable by government, provided both the individual and the programme can comply with these funding rules); and the opportunity to apply these new skills in a real work environment (in the productive job role) through on-the-job training, which is the responsibility of the apprentice’s employer.

All apprentices are required to spend at least 20% of their time on off-the-job training in addition to any time allocated for them to achieve English and maths qualifications required for their apprenticeship standard. They will have to complete these as part of the ‘gateway’ process that shows they are ready for end point assessment (EPA) with an independent EPA organisation.

Learners, whose employers decide to invest in their training and assessment, can be funded as apprentices as long as their training provider (or employer if they train their own staff) is on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP).

Training providers who wish to offer apprenticeship training can choose one of three routes when they apply on the RoATP:

  • Main provider
  • Employer provider
  • Supporting provider

Since August 2021 the register has been open only to new providers that are able to fulfil a gap in provision identified by unmet employer demand.

Apprenticeship standards are placed into one of 30 funding bands, with the upper limit of those bands ranging from £1500 to £27000, e.g. adult care worker level 2 is in band 4 with an upper limit of £3000. Employers negotiate a price for their apprentices’ training and assessment (including the cost of end point assessment) with the chosen training provider up to the upper limit.

Employers with annual pay bills of more than £3 million pay into a digital account which is then topped up by 10% by the government. Funds in digital accounts will expire after 24 months if unused.

Employers that do not pay the levy or do not have sufficient funds in their levy accounts need to contribute 5% of the training and assessment cost, the government pays the remaining 95%.

For smaller employers who offer apprenticeships to young people, 100% of the funding is provided by the government and the government also pays providers for the delivery of English and maths required for completion of the standard, as well as learning support funding for apprentices with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.

From 1 April 2021, as part of Covid-19 recovery measures, employers who took on new apprentices could receive incentive payments of £3000 per new start, irrespective of age.

The employer incentive payments were extended for new apprenticeship starts from 1 October 2021 to 31 January 2022.

The latest apprenticeship funding rules for 2021 to 2022 apply to apprenticeship starts between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022. There are different funding rules for different apprenticeship start dates. You must follow the funding rules that apply to each apprentice.

For the latest versions of the rules go to Apprenticeship funding rules.

The apprenticeship service offers employers and training providers an extensive range of services which promote and expand the apprenticeship provision. You can watch very useful webinar recordings on the apprenticeship service’s You Tube channel Using the apprenticeship service – YouTube.

Funding for traineeships

Traineeships are a national programme which provides 16 to 24-year-olds resident in England with the skills and work experience needed to progress into apprenticeships, employment and further learning.

The traineeship core offer includes the following mandatory elements:

• work-preparation training e.g. CV writing, interview skills

• substantial work-placement element, and

• English, maths, ESOL or digital skills as necessary.

Providers can also offer a flexible element including technical and professional qualifications needed for the workplace.

Providers can use Ascentis qualifications  to support the educational aspect of a traineeship programme including English, maths and digital skills as well as work preparation and employability skills, e.g. Ascentis level 1 award in work preparation.

Some new flexibilities have been introduced more recently into the design of traineeships, e.g. duration extended to up to 12 months, level 3 learners are eligible, placements with more than one employer.

Young people aged 16-18 are funded on traineeships in the same way as other study programmes, depending on total planned hours for all the elements, e.g. a young person whose total planned hours for all of the elements is 400 hours would be funded at £3,056.

Adults aged 19-24 are funded by the AEB, with a single rate of £1500 per learner for the combined work preparation and placements element, and separate rates for the other elements. The ESFA continues to fund eligible individuals for the traineeship programme across England, including individuals resident in a devolved authority area.

Other sources of funding for adult skills

Under the Kickstart Scheme introduced in 2020, employers who offer six month-long high quality work placements to young people aged 16 to 24 on universal credit at risk of long- term unemployment, can receive a subsidy of 100% of the minimum wage for 25 hours a week (plus NI and pension). Additionally, the employer can receive up to £1,500 per applicant to pay for set up and administration costs, plus any appropriate training. Despite disappointing take-up of this scheme, it has been extended into 2022.

Sector-based work academies (SWAPs) have been designed to help Jobcentre Plus claimants build their confidence and improve their job prospects, and help employers in sectors with vacancies fill them. Lasting up to 6 weeks, they consist of three elements

  • Pre-employment training
  • Work experience placement
  • Guaranteed job interview

The AEB local flexibility funds pre-employment training, lasting 2-3 weeks, DWP funds other elements, including travel and childcare whilst on placement.

The National Skills Fund is a new source of funding, over 5 years from 2019 to 2020 as part of the ‘Plan for Jobs’, mainly to fund adults who want to upskill or retrain, to meet the needs of a changing labour market. It has been extensively used to fund skills recovery measures in the aftermath of Covid-19, including Skills Bootcamps and the new lifetime skills guarantee.

Skills Bootcamps target industry sectors with significant skills shortages as priorities and provide access to almost 400 free courses through Free Courses for Jobs.  They are suitable for employed, recently unemployed, self-employed or returning to work adults aged 19 and over. Currently, free level 3 courses of up to 16 weeks are available in engineering, construction, computing, science, HGV driving, health and social care.

The extension of the free level 3 offer for adults from April 2021 to those aged 24 and over although funded by the National Skills Fund is routed through the ESFA  AEB nationally or through the Mayoral Combined Authorities for residents living in those areas. A further extension of the free level 3 offer to adults who are unemployed or earning below the national minimum wage so that they can study these qualifications irrespective of any prior qualifications came into effect from April 2022. The funding rates for these are uplifted for certain level 3 qualifications depending on size (GLH) - £600 for qualifications 360 GLH and over, or £150 for qualifications 359 GLH and less.

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The future of Access to HE Programmes in the new FE and Skills environment

Ascentis in association with e-Memoir Suitable for Directors of Curriculum, Access to HE Managers, Planning and Funding Managers and Data Managers. Access to HE provision is an important part of the FE and skills offer for adults seeking to progress to HE programmes but it is facing significant challenges in the new FE and skills environment. The Skills and Post-16 Education Act and Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill as well as the reviews of qualifications at level 3 and below, greater devolution of adult funding, increased use of remote learning, and the introduction of T levels, will together put significant pressure on FE colleges and other providers to review their curriculum offer and delivery. This one-hour webinar will provide you with the most up-to-date information on the future of Access to HE in light of these changes, and some insights into how providers might respond. It will cover • The importance and scope of Access to HE programmes • Funding of Access to HE programmes – Adult Education Budget and Advanced Learner Loans • Implications of the levelling up agenda for delivery of Access to HE – upskilling and retraining • Effective delivery mechanisms, including flexible and online learning – actions to support learners • Future prospects for Access to HE, including progression into higher apprenticeships • How Ascentis can enhance your Access to HE offer

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