A simple Freedom of Information request to three local authorities showed community and voluntary controlled schools have paid £9,453,840 in Apprenticeship Levy Funding, over the past four years. Less than 25%, a paltry £2,145,286, had been used to fund training and assessment of staff in these schools, in the same period. It is an absolute waste; funds from schools’ budgets are being sent back to HMRC unused.
As CEO of a small multi academy trust, I was ultimately responsible for the spending of the Apprenticeship Levy. The Levy is collected monthly from all organisations with payrolls above £3 million per annum; 0.5% of the payroll is levied. As a Trust, we used the Levy to fund Level 2 qualifications for all our cleaners – run by a local FE College – up to a Senior Leaders Level 7 programme that was combined with a Masters. We also used the Levy to fund the training and assessment of apprentices employed in administration and ICT. The sensible use of the Levy can make a real difference to the development, recruitment and retention of staff across an organisation.
Different organisations pay the Apprenticeship Levy in different ways. All schools can benefit from the Apprenticeship Levy whether they directly pay into the Levy or not. Smaller schools with annual payroll budgets below £3 million can access the Apprenticeship Levy using co-investment. Basically, the school pays 5% of the costs of the programme with the remaining 95% paid for. Due to the complexity of the arrangements, John Tomsett and I are running a free webinar on Thursday 22nd April 2021 at 7:30 pm. More details of the webinar and the opportunity to grab a free ticket are on Eventbrite.
The Freedom of Information request yielded the information below. I asked the local authorities to provide:
- The amount of Apprenticeship Levy paid by the schools in the periods 06.04.2017- 05.04.2018; 06.04.2018 – 05.04.2019; 06.04.2019 – 05.04.2020 and 06.04.2020 – 31.01.2021 (or latest date in this financial year for which you have the data available).
- For the same time periods would you also provide the amount of the Apprenticeship Levy used to fund training, development & assessment in the schools.
- For the whole period, the total amount of Apprenticeship Levy Funding the local authority has “lost”, that is, it has been reclaimed by HMRC.
- For the whole period, the Approved Apprenticeship Providers who have received funds from the Apprenticeship Levy to pay for training, development & assessment and the total amount received.
These are a really important set of questions for local authorities, multi academy trusts, single academy trusts and voluntary aided schools to ask of themselves, rather than waiting to be asked. The simple reality is a large amount of funding is being wasted rather than being used to develop staff.
Where has the Money Gone?
The rules governing spending of the Apprenticeship Levy mean if funds haven’t been spent within two years of being collected they revert back to HMRC. This leads to far too much funding that could and should be used to develop staff being lost.
LA1 is just about managing not to lose money back to HMRC but is going to have to rapidly increase spending on staff development in the months ahead if it is not to lose funding back to HMRC. Spending on schools is lagging well behind the contributions schools are making.
LA2 is proving the most problematic to get information from. In some ways, I’m not surprised given it has spent less than 10% of the monies it has taken from schools, for the Apprenticeship Levy, on the training and assessment of school staff. It has already disclosed that it has returned Apprenticeship Levy – taken from hard pressed school budgets – back to HMRC. I’m waiting for it to disclose the actual figure. My guesstimate is that it is likely to be in the region of £1.6+ million.
LA3 appears to be in a similar mess to LA2. It has returned £1,153,949 to HMRC unspent. It’s important to note that a local authority’s Apprenticeship Levy is based on the payroll of all local authority employees.
Owners or Custodians?
Sadly, some local authorities see the Apprenticeship Levy as the “Authority’s Levy”. They are owners and often operate restrictive practices with little engagement with schools to find out what the schools – who pay large sums into the Apprenticeship Levy – actually want and need.
The Department for Education is quite clear in its documentation of the responsibility on local authorities. They have:
“ …responsibility for making the necessary arrangements to provide schools with access to the relevant funds. It is in the best interests of schools and local authorities that this process is set out clearly between a local authority and their schools, so that levy funding is managed as effectively as possible.”
Custodian local authorities operate very differently. They see the funds they are holding as “in trust” and work to ensure the programmes available – including those sourced by individual schools – are funded to support each school’s improvement journey. This approach is far more beneficial to all involved and ultimately benefits our children and young people.
Please note, I am currently a tutor on the National College of Education Senior Leaders Combined Masters & Level 7 programme which is funded via the Apprenticeship Levy, for which I am paid. Whilst I have a vested interest in the Apprenticeship Levy being spent, my main interest is that schools get access to the training they require (from the most appropriate provider) and funding isn’t simply removed from schools’ budgets with them having little or no say in how it is used.
If you are interested in programmes, fully funded by the Apprenticeship Levy, including Instructional Coaching (with Andy Buck, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli); or Middle Leadership training or a Senior Leadership Masters Programme Combined with a Level 7 Apprenticeship programme, details of the programmes are here. The deadline to apply is 31st May 2021.