Public Services > Education

Apprenticeship levy system relies on mix of digital development and SFA legacy estate

David Bicknell Published 23 August 2016

Digital Apprenticeship Service relies on integration programme with 60% of solution already existing within SFA


The government’s apprenticeship reform programme aimed at delivering more and better quality apprenticeships is one of its highest profile policies.

It emerged from the 2012 Richard Review which was tasked with advising ministers on apprenticeships could better meet the needs of the economy.

The apprenticeship reforms follow the review’s recommendations, which aim to make apprenticeships more genuinely employer-led, including enabling employers to determine the ‘standard’ of competence in a given occupation and select the appropriate training for their apprentice; encouraging employers to become more demanding customers by requiring them to co-invest transparently in the cost of external training; having the market set the price of training rather than government; and incentivising providers to respond to business needs by making the employer the customer, with direct control over the government funding.

The Digital Services documents issued last year by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) for front end design, interaction design and content design, editorial and strategy for some of the work on supporting IT systems indicate that the scope of the “SME Beta” will include the building of the employer facing systems to underpin the digital apprenticeship service.

The system will ultimately require integration with other existing SFA services, primarily funding and contracting systems in order to make payments. The scope includes gaining greater understanding of the service; building and testing the efficacy of different design approaches; testing technologies; forming the organisation’s digital delivery team and capability; developing the service at a coding and integrations level; developing the service’s assisted digital support; and integration with existing Agency services.

The Digital Services documents indicated that the original Employer Routed Funding (ERF) – now Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) - technical solution is essentially an integration programme with approximately 60% of the solution already in existence within the SFA estate.

The key legacy estate includes a series of current technologies and languages, including:

  • The provider hub, which is used by learning providers for the provision of information returns including the individualised learner record (ILR).
  • The Data Collection Service (DCS) – this is a set of services that are used to collect and validate the provider data and ensure that it is made available within the agency is a format which is useful.
  • The Finance and Contracting Services (FCS) – these are used to contract with and calculate the payments to learning providers, based on the services that they have provided.
  • The Payments Service – this service is used to pay providers based on a payment calculation for a particular period.
  • The Course Directory Service – this is a service provided to the agency by Tribal Software. It provides marketing and course information entered by providers into the ERF system.
  • Management Information (PD&P) – this is an existing service within the agency. Technologically, it is based on SQL Server and BIRST. It will be necessary for the ERF system to integrate directly with MI in order to retrieve key reports for all ERF Roles.
  • FE Choices – this service within the agency provides feedback on Learning Providers.
  • Employer Org Service (EDRS) – this is an existing service within the agency which provides employer information into the agency. It will be necessary for the ERF system to integrate directly with EDRS, which will be achieved using a façade organisation service developed within the agency.
  • PIMS – this is an existing service within the agency which delivers provider information into the agency. It will be necessary for the ERF system to integrate directly with PIMS, which will be achieved using a façade organisation service. This will be a RESTful service developed within the agency.
  • Provider and Staff IDAMS – these are existing services within the agency which provide employer verification. These are services based on IBM Tivoli and Office 365 technology respectively. It will be necessary for the ERF system to integrate with both systems

One of the first work packages required, originally labelled the ERF SME Beta, was to build a sustainable and supportable digital service that was focused on the SME segment of employers as defined during the alpha development. This would provide an employer facing portal, integration with existing agency services and systems, offer an assisted digital capability, and would deliver a "minimumviable service" for the start of the pilot in April 2016.

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