THE FUTURE OF THE INDIVIDUAL LEARNING
A DISCUSSION DOCUMENT FROM PITMAN TRAINING
Pitman Training Group is the UK and Ireland's
leading provider of IT, Office & Business skills training.
Operating out of 89 franchised training centres79 of which
deliver ILA-funded learning, 76 in Englandthe 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
The points we have raised in the past include:
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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
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 provisionat
80 per centvery 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
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 paymentwe would suggest thirty percentuntil
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.
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
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
We would recommend a revised cap of £500.00,
with special arrangements for training of IT Professionals (see
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
moreand bettertraining 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 aspirationsthe very heart of the ILA
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