Clause 22 - Prohibitions on entering into funding arrangements with providers

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 7 Rhagfyr 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 2:00, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 22, page 28, line 15, leave out from first “to” to “paid” in line 16 and insert “an agreement for the funding authority to provide funding to the provider includes a reference to an agreement or arrangements between the funding authority and the provider by virtue of which amounts can or must be”

This amendment makes clear that an agreement between the Secretary of State and an education provider that must be in place in order for student loans to be paid directly to the provider counts as “funding arrangements” for the purposes of clause 22. It also covers arrangements other than agreements.

Amendment 24 is a minor and technical amendment that clarifies that advanced learner loan funding routed through the Student Loans Company is in the scope of clause 22. This has always been the intention of clause 22(9), and this amendment is merely a technical adjustment to the drafting. It ensures that advanced learner loan funding arrangements are captured by the “funding arrangements” definition in clause 22. Without the amendment, clause 22 may not be adequately applied in relation to providers who receive advanced learner loan funding.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

We appreciate that clarification.

Amendment 24 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Clause 22 is important in ensuring that a funding authority is prevented from entering funding arrangements with a provider that is not on the list. It also makes sure that the funding authority can take action to terminate funding arrangements in an orderly way should a provider cease to be on the list.

The short-notice exit of a provider from the provision of education or training can significantly disrupt the educational experience of young people and adults. The transfer of learners to another provider can take time, be extremely disruptive and increase the risk of learner disengagement. The provision of post-16 education or training is commissioned by various funding bodies and is often subcontracted. As a result, there is a wide variation in the range of obligations and requirements currently imposed on providers.

The provisions in the clause are intended to ensure that a consistent set of requirements is placed on providers and funding authorities to protect learners and public funds, even where the education or training is funded by local commissioning bodies or through subcontracts. The clause also sets out that a provider must not rely on anything in clause 22 as a reason for not carrying out existing obligations under a funding agreement. A funding authority could continue to enforce those obligations even if a provider was not on the list, as the contract would remain valid. This may be important to allow a provider to teach existing learners until they had completed their course where the risk posed by the provider could be managed.

The clause also includes the power for the Secretary of State to set out in regulations the particular characteristics of the funding arrangements that are subject to these funding controls. This is necessary so that the Department can ensure that the controls are applied proportionately. For example, de minimis requirements may be needed so that short-term and low-value arrangements for the provision of relevant education or training are not captured by the requirement for the particular provider to be on the list. The clause is essential in ensuring that there are certain restrictions and controls on the public funding of education or training providers in the scope of the list.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

It is important to ensure that information is shared widely, not only with providers that might be outside mainstream education provision but with funding authorities such as mayoral or combined authorities, to ensure dialogue and so that smaller providers are not missed out.

The clause clarifies that providers must be approved and have an agreement in place for them to be allowed to have student loans paid directly. Building on the contribution I made in the debate on clause 21, it would be useful if the Minister clarified the steps the Government will take to ensure that only providers with quality offerings and financial stability and robustness receive direct payments and that these steps will not prevent quality, innovative smaller providers from accessing the important opportunities to attract new students.

Further to that, does the Minister anticipate that the extension of student finance will mean that a greater variety of private sector organisations will be able to receive student loan applications? I have met people in my constituency, and have written to his predecessor about other courses whose students have previously been excluded from getting student loans to access them, despite having a long track record of their students going into employment. To what extent does the Minister think the Bill will increase the number of learners who can get student loans for their courses, and how will he ensure that quality, innovative, smaller providers can access those opportunities?

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The Government are fully aware that ITPs come in all shapes and sizes, and play an essential part in the skills ecosystem. We are very mindful that we do not want to drive good providers out of the market by creating a list. The sole purpose of the list is to ensure that all providers have in place provisions to ensure that they have contingency plans for their students should they go under. That is something that exists elsewhere in the skills space. We are extending it to ITPs, and intend to do so in such a way that will not create a bureaucratic overload. To the hon. Member’s point on student loans, it will very much depend on how the system evolves from this point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.