From education to employment

What makes a really good initial assessment?

Chris Jones, HMI Specialist Advisor for Apprenticeships, Ofsted

In terms of effective practice is around initial assessment. I get asked all the time about, “What makes a really good initial assessment?”

Essentially, it’s about NOT concentrating solely on English and mathematics.

Yes, it’s important to know our English and mathematical skills, so that you can judge which level of functional skills, or GCSE you’re going to put the learners or apprentices on.

But in apprenticeships, what we’re really concerned about is what apprentices bring to the table at the start of their apprenticeship. What knowledge, skills and behaviours do they have already that may, or may not, help you to make a decision about whether they’re going to do the apprenticeship, whether your apprenticeship is the right route for them.

Prior Learning in Management Apprenticeships

I often think about the management apprentice, who’s been a manager for four or five years and he’s doing an apprenticeship.

I suppose the question that I would ask is, “Well, what is the apprenticeship going to do for them? What new knowledge are they going to learn as a result of doing that apprenticeship?” So, the initial assessment then is important.

Where I’ve seen it work really well has been about being really clear about the knowledge, skills and behaviours and what they are. Obviously that provider got those from the assessment plan, really clear about what they were. Then got the Apprentice to do a skills gap, that traditional kind of thing about how confident they felt about doing certain activities, about their knowledge.

On one inspection, I got really concerned about that, because that was what I was presented with at the beginning of the inspection. I said to the provider, “Look, this is a spot, I am going to scratch through this apprenticeship because I’m really uncomfortable with this.” Because all I’m seeing is that The Apprentice is really confident about this.

So, you’ve got one apprentice is really confident, one apprentice who’s not. They’re on the same program, and yet the programs that they’re doing are exactly the same. So, I need to see something else.

Applying moderation

So, they said, “Well, that isn’t everything!” I said, “So why haven’t you show me everything then?”

Then you got down to the fact that what they did with that was to say, “Yes, that’s how you feel now.”

Then they applied moderation to that. They got a subjective expert involved to say, “Well, OK, if we’re looking at these set of skills here, and you’re judging yourself, a seven out of ten. Now, if it was cake baking, and Mary Barry was a 10. Think about yourself, that skill, with Mary Barry or Lewis Hamilton as the tens, where are you now?” So, it enables the apprentice to put a bit more realism into that.

Then what they did was to revisit that three weeks later, as the apprentice had gone through a programme of learning, they’d gone through induction, got to have a view of what the curriculum was looking like, what the training plan was for the apprenticeship, to then say, “OK, I was wrong. I need to readjust those.”

It’s about then having that conversation with the subject specialist, so it therefore becomes more like an interview. The KSBs, the Knowledge, skills and behaviours, became the focus of that interview.

Robust analysis

It was more like a beefed-up recruitment and selection process. There was a closer analysis of what The Apprentice could do, what they did know, and therefore what the curriculum plan for them should look like, in order to make sure that they developed the knowledge, skills and behaviours they needed to pass the End-point assessment at the end of that apprenticeship.

So, get that initial view, but build in and make sure that there is robust analysis of what apprentices are saying that they know, can do, and how they behave, so that you’re making that sort of very strong initial assessment, and from there, be able to build the appropriate curriculum plan.

Do that, and that would seem to me to be a robust initial assessment. That should help you when it comes to looking at the structure, and sequencing of the curriculum in the new inspection framework.

Is it a good idea to be looking at grading for an initial assessment, and then through the apprenticeship process to then actually see if one’s ready for End-point assessment as well?

I’m not sure grading necessarily helps, but it’s about the provider, The Apprentice, and the employer having a really clear view about the skills that The Apprentice has, and which ones they need to develop, in order to be effective at their job, and in order to prepare themselves for the wider occupational route that they’re entering.

So, if they are health and social care apprentice, they’re adults care apprentice, for example, then they’ll be certain levels of skills that they would need to know.

They would need to know, for example, about how to support a disadvantaged adult to live and prepare for an independent life.

So, they’d need to know what the constituents were. They’d need to know about managing challenging behaviour. They’d need to develop the care and compassion to sit and talk with an adult displaying challenging behaviour. That’s telling you the same thing 15 times over and remaining that sense of calm and compassion to be able to support that adult to learn over time.

Now, that may be a skill, care and compassion may be something that’s inherent within you and you demonstrate those behaviours without even thinking about it. That may very well come through an initial assessment or something. Wow, this person is really good at that, and therefore a good candidate for the adult care apprenticeship.

But then we’d be overlaying that over time with care and compassion, but resilience. So that you can deal with those challenging moments in a sensible, calm, detached way, and deal with that over time, over and over again.

That is something that can only come through robust initial assessment. We know they’re caring and compassionate, what are the things that we need to build in the training to help them to develop the absolute behaviours that we need them to demonstrate when they have qualified, and when they want to progress on from that.

I think is about having that clarity about what it is that we’re looking for, in terms of what they know, in terms of the skills that they need to develop, and the behaviours that they need to exemplify.

Chris Jones, HMI Specialist Advisor for Apprenticeships, Ofsted

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