The Apprenticeship Levy: Unused Apprenticeship Levy Contributions

Ben Barton

Approaching two years since its introduction, many local authorities and schools are still not making the most of the potential investment in learning and there continues to be noise about a need for change to the system to make it more palatable for many businesses.

The National College of Education is the only apprentice provider providing school-centered management and leadership apprenticeships to organisations in England. We are working with 140 employers and have more than 400 learners on programme. Employers include over 80 MATs and more than a third of all Local Authorities. Our approach has been to find ways to support MATs and LAs to deploy their levy investment to make significant strides in closing the skill gap and preparing their organisations for the future. We are also helping schools to improve retention rates for staff by providing opportunities for schools to access the levy pot in order to invest in the development of staff.

So far working in this market together we have found:

  • There is still a need to communicate the scope and reach of the levy; especially to Local Authority schools. To many it has felt cumbersome and easier to consider as a tax. Where employers are deploying levy successfully, they have invested time at leadership levels to explain the opportunity, help navigate the apprenticeship environment, and to understand how it can be used in filling critical skills gaps right across an organisation.
  • When approached through the lens of the retention and professional development demands presented by current landscape for the school, the levy can be deployed as a powerful investment in future leadership and management capability, including developing the skills to lead organisations in a complex landscape, manage the tightening budgets and difficult recruitment cycles as well as investing directly in the technical skills needed to run schools and MATs.
  • There is a recognised skill gap at leadership levels in schools in the UK, with the development of next generation leaders at the top of the priority list for MAT CEOs and headteachers. This skill gap is a contributing factor to the retention crisis in leadership positings in schools with less than half of leaders rating current leadership skills in their schools as high. Deployed as an integrated part of learning and leadership, the levy can play a significant role in closing this gap.
  • Talent planning, and indeed strategic workforce planning, must become more sophisticated in response to the varied challenges in education. Aligning their levy spend to delivering on the key capabilities identified as critical in such plans is enabling some of our school clients to drive performance improvements in their workforces today, and to provide the skill flexibility to buffer them from future change and recruitment crises..
  • Many schools have struggled for several years to tackle the challenge of accidental managers; excellent teachers who have risen to leadership positions without the investment in skill development they need to help the teams they lead flourish. We are seeing MATs and schools tackle this directly through levy investment.
  • The Change Project that our 400+ Level 7 Senior Leaders will complete over the coming 2 years will deliver real examples of internal school improvement. We have proposals that cover a wide range of issues including the Ofsted curriculum challenge, recruitment and retention strategies, looking again at ITT and middle leader development. These research-based projects will provide solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing schools today.

The levy does not perfectly suit every school or leader, and in some cases needs to be applied alongside other change investment and shifts in talent practices especially the recruitment of new teachers. Evolution of the levy in response to the early challenges is likely to be welcomed by many,but should not be something which precipitates wholesale policy change as a knee jerk reaction to slow uptake, when slow uptake has in our experience been about careful planning not a rejection of the approach. We need consistency so that the investments being made can be seen through. At the NCE, we believe there great positive impact to be had from the levy in its existing form. We are sure it will continue to evolve and develop in response to the needs of the market, but if you want to make the most of the strategic difference it can make to your organisation now, don’t wait for change, take the opportunity already in front of you.