Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence





  Pitman Training Group is the UK and Ireland's leading provider of IT, Office & Business skills training. Operating out of 89 franchised training centres—79 of which deliver ILA-funded learning, 76 in England—the Group has lobbied consistently for a coherent and workable ILA model.

  Pitman Training has been involved with the ILA programme since the earliest pilot stage. The company and its franchises worked with TECs across the country to help develop workable models. The Pitman Training network has also delivered training extensively on programmes such as New Deal, Work Based Learning for Adults, UK OnLine, and many others.

  Following the suspension of the ILA scheme, Pitman Training are anxious to contribute to the process of finding a workable, targeted and timely restoration or replacement.


  Pitman Training has consistently made constructive criticism of the initiative's shortcomings, offering suggestions as to how the rules could be changed to improve the outcome and to reduce the potential for abuse. We make no apology for repeating the main points now: it is essential that the lessons of ILAs are learned.

  The points we have raised in the past include:

    —  Breadth of Scope

  The DfEE's admirable intentions in introducing a scheme that would encompass both the sole trader delivering training in aromatherapy and the large-scale provider of IT training, proved unworkable. Rules designed to facilitate the work of the former, meant inadequate supervision of the latter. The result was the entry into the IT training market of opportunistic businesses with little or no connection with training, seeking to exploit the inadequate framework of regulations.

    —  Insufficient Regulation

  By attempting to broaden the appeal of the programme, DfEE elected to keep regulations to a minimum. However, this was taken too far. At the time of the introduction of the initiative to private sector providers in September 2000, there was no written guidance available to providers. Indeed, this company produced the first comprehensive set of written guidelines and submitted them to the DfEE ILA Policy Unit for comment on 6 September 2000. A detailed set of regulations would have prevented many of the difficulties encountered in recent months.

    —  Lack of Cap

  The problems deriving from the initial failure to put a limit on spending under the scheme have been well documented. Suffice it to say that consultation with private providers would have produced a sensible middle-ground and avoided the need for the £200.00 cap on the 80 per cent band, which so limited the opportunities for worthwhile training for many career aspirants.

    —  Absence of Provider Approval

  Pitman Training Group has expressed their concern on this issue to ministers and officials on several occasions since before the launch of the programme. Without minimum standards, anyone has been able to set up in business as a "training provider", with the consequences that have become so apparent over the past few months. It is most unfortunate that the DfEE/DfES chose to take no action on this, particularly since there is such an obvious and easily implemented solution, as detailed later in this paper.

    —  No Completion Threshold

  The failure to tie part of the payment to providers to the individual's completion of their learning programme has created the opportunity for the unscrupulous operators to take the money without showing any care for the individual's learning experience.

    —  Poor Support & Administration

  The performance of Capita in operating the ILA Centre has been woeful. The grasp of their advisors of the details of the initiative is extremely poor: this company took a policy decision at the very launch of the Centre to wait until we had received three consecutive, identical answers to a question before accepting that as likely to be authoritative. We have had no reason to change that view.

  Likewise, the processing of applications has never been smooth and all but collapsed as numbers increased.

  Fortunately, Pitman Training Group were able to get direct access to DfEE/DfES officials in the ILA Policy Unit; other, smaller providers were not so lucky.


    —  Vacuum in the Training Market

  The decision to "suspend" the ILA programme with trails of a likely solution "soon" or "in a couple of months" is likely to have a serious and damaging effect on private training providers. Anyone without a valid PIN seeking training at the moment is likely to put off any decision until the government's policy becomes clear. Providers are already seeing a collapse in enquiries from this section of the market.

  It is essential that the DfES give clear direction on what it intends to do after December 7. Clarity and speed are essential to prevent the collapse of some legitimate providers: if the intention is to abandon ILAs, government should say so immediately and announce what is to take its place. A return to Vocational Training Relief from 8 December until the replacement scheme is rolled out would be a simple, short-term expedient.


  In putting forward our solutions to the current situation, we are conscious of the realities facing DfES ministers and officials. Our proposals, therefore, make certain assumptions:

    —  There is unlikely to be any support for ideas demanding a substantial increase in the bureaucracy behind the initiative.

    —  DfES is still keen to make vocational training opportunities available to a wide cross-section of the adult population, with minimum barriers to entry.

    —  IT skills remain a key area and may be extended to support of high-level training for IT Professionals.

  Our proposals, therefore, as are follows:

    —  Isolate IT Training

  All the major difficulties within the ILA initiative have come in the area of IT. This is easily explained: IT is the major skills sector within the scope of the initiative, and attracts the higher-level funding.

  The feedback we have from officials suggests that there are few problems at the 20 per cent discount level or with the specialist mathematics learning providers. Imposing more stringent rules in the area of IT training would solve many of the problems and would be widely welcomed by bona fide IT training providers.

    —  Provider Approval

  This is the key to the recovery of the ILA initiative, or to any replacement that may be considered. When Pitman Training Group were invited recently to comment upon the proposed Guidance to Providers, which would have been introduced on November 1, we were dismayed that this key issue had not been addressed. All the new rules were simply introduced to put up barriers to make the "rogue traders" lives more difficult. This was an opportunity missed to take them out of the market place completely.

  Our official response forwarded to the ILA Policy Unit on October 18 included the following passage:


  We have believed from the beginning of the ILA scheme that there should be some simple, but effective, method of ensuring that providers meet minimum quality standards. This has been seen as difficult to achieve by DfES because of the large numbers of specialist providers operating on a very small scale.

  However, most of the changes brought in recently and in this revised Guide are needed solely because of the activities of businesses that have little connection with training delivery, other than a sense of opportunism. There is, we believe, a quick and effective remedy.

  Most of the providers who would be negatively affected by quality thresholds claim discounts at 20 per cent or, if claiming 80 per cent, will mainly be training in Mathematics. If quality barriers were introduced only to IT provision—at 80 per cent—very few legitimate providers would be affected, whilst the minority of dubious providers causing such difficulty over recent months would be taken out of the system overnight.

  The process would be very simple to operate and would rely on the prior acceptance of the provider into schemes operated by Government departments or independent agencies that already demand minimum quality levels from trainers. Examples of this would include (amongst others):

    —  Employment Service Approved Provider status

    —  LearnDirect Centre

    —  ECDL Testing Centre

    —  UK OnLine Centre

  In the very rare examples that a legitimate provider did not have any such recognition, they could very easily and inexpensively seek approval from one of the above or, perhaps, get a written reference from their Local Learning & Skills Council. The street traders, with no training background, would be unable to comply."

  We fully understand the laudable intentions of brining in a simple scheme with a light touch, giving the individual learner maximum choice. The reality is, however, as has been so clearly demonstrated, that a lack of Quality Assurance simply opens the door to the unscrupulous. DfES should focus on developing the availability of ILA-funded IT training through approved providers only. A switch to this policy would be a quick, targeted and cost-effective answer to all but a tiny percentage of the ILA initiative's problems. We urge DfES to give it early and serious consideration.

    —  Outcome Related Payment Regime

  By making the whole of the payment to providers dependent on just the start of the learning programme, the initiatives invites abuse. A qualification outcome is not appropriate under this initiative, but it would be simple to hold back a proportion of the payment—we would suggest thirty percent—until the ILA holder certifies that they have completed their programme by signing a completion form.

  This would greatly improve the completion rate amongst learners, ensuring that government money would be used in a far more appropriate manner than hitherto.

    —  Uplifting of the Cap

  Pitman Training expressed surprise and concern once it became clear that there was to be no ceiling on payments under the original ILA scheme. Our predictions of abuse were, unfortunately, accurate. However, the cap once introduced was at too low a level to maximise significant learning opportunities for individualS looking to make a real difference to their career aspirations.

  Once the problems surrounding "rogue traders" are eliminated, there should be no reason why the cap should not be raised to a level that would make that difference. The money wasted by the problems can be channelled into improving the average learning experience.

  We would recommend a revised cap of £500.00, with special arrangements for training of IT Professionals (see below).

    —  IT Professional Training

  A major misjudgement in the availability of learning under the Individual Learning Account initiative was the failure to include training for IT Professionals. The major skills gap identified in the UK is for people with these very skills: the government's own statistics clearly show the low take up of job opportunities in this sector due to the absence of appropriate training and qualifications. Changes should be made to the scheme to make funding available towards this training and a special capping level introduced to recognise the high costs of such intensive training for qualifications such as A+ and MCSE.

    —  Improved Support & Administration

  It is essential that Capita staff receive much more—and better—training on the scheme. Many of the detailed problems that have beset providers stem from inaccurate, misleading or ambiguous advice.

  Capita should be targeted on performance in the turn round of applications: there is a significant and clearly documented fall out in individuals coming forward for training once applications are delayed by more then 10 days: quite simply, the motivation evaporates.

    —  Consultation with Providers

  It is essential that DfES includes the major private training providers in its planning of the re-introduction of ILAs or any proposed replacement. Pitman Training Group begged for a voice in July/August 2000, even offering to act as an unpaid consultant, but was ignored. This should not happen again.

  The private sector provides high-quality, cost effective training and is expert in tailoring vocational learning solutions to career aspirations—the very heart of the ILA initiative.

  Pitman Training Group plc is an active, founding member of The Association of Computer Trainers (ACT), representing the legitimate IT training industry. ACT should be involved closely in the planning process for this, and any future, initiatives involving funded training programmes.


  Pitman Training Group has a rare and valuable perspective on Individual Learning Accounts. Having responsibility for the activities of 79 ILA providers across each of the four national schemes, we are able to see both the flaws in the initiative and the opportunities that still remain should ILAs be reinstated.

  We firmly believe that Individual Learning Accounts (or their successors) have a future. The difficulties that have arisen are almost entirely due to the activities of a very small number of "providers", with tenuous links to the legitimate training industry. These rogue providers have taken advantage of a misguided regime of regulation.

  Our proposals solve almost all the current problems instantly, at little or no cost to the public purse, enabling the Individual Learning Account initiative to fulfil its promise to increase public access to high quality vocational training.

Pitman Training Group plc

November 2001

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