From education to employment

Apprenticeships in a strange world

Gareth Phillips

Who would have thought when we were all planning and putting budgets together last year that we would have to face a once in a hundred years pandemic, causing the Government to introduce legislation to keep people in ‘lockdown’ at home, leading to the Country facing the worst economic situation and unemployment figures for generations?

Nostradamus territory? Nobody would have predicted what was going to happen in the world; let alone to the Apprenticeship market in the England!

Apprenticeships have been cited as one of the positives to help Employers to begin to rebuild, even if it is gradual and part of wider business support. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to offer an “opportunity guarantee” that will give “every young person the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement” to boost the economy after Covid-19.

To reach its full potential, these commitments from Government must be backed up with an integrated marketing campaign. That way Employers will know what support is available and where to go to access it. This would also help Training Providers currently trying to spread the word to Employers to help them to generate the new Apprenticeship starts that they need to help them to gradually build back their businesses, bring people back from furlough and ensure their future viability.

However, the market is still heavily regulated. The rules are still the rules; whether delivery, funding or sub-contracting which have been re-enforced by the ongoing Government updates throughout the last few weeks and months, related to Provider performance measures, claw back and potential penalties.

The risk is even more heightened for Providers now and will continue to be in the ‘new normal’, as life is now frequently referred to. Recent reports in the public domain on Provider performance for QAR show that Apprentices are leaving programmes early and it’s taking longer for Apprentices to get to Gateway, affecting the Providers’ bottom line, their reputation and future Employer partnership opportunities.

Providers need advice, guidance and support more than ever to deliver an efficient Apprenticeship programme, ensuring they meet ESFA and Ofsted requirements, and to support their Employer clients with high quality, competent and successful Apprentices to add real value to their businesses.

‘Apprentice-centric’ delivery

Under the Education Inspection Framework (EIF), we know that it is key to deliver and demonstrate the intent, implementation and impact for each Apprentice. How can you measure and evidence this if you don’t know the Apprentice’s starting point? Add to this that the new 2020/ 2021 funding rules for Apprenticeships effectively say that the old “skills scan” is no longer fit for purpose in the initial assessment of a new Apprentice.

Providers need to be able to complete initial diagnostic assessment against the specific skills, knowledge and behaviours according to each Apprenticeship Standard. This is to understand whether the Apprentice is actually on the right Standard; what prior attainment they have for their role already, what experience they have and therefore which areas of the Standard may need less delivery focus in comparison to others. By understanding an Apprentice’s starting point and their strengths and weaknesses, Providers can create individual learning action plans which are tailored and truly Apprentice-specific. These plans also provide a structure against which the Provider can plan, share and deliver ‘Apprentice-centric’ learning as efficiently as possible to include a combination of remote and face to face activity.

Employers need to be assured that their investment is going to be value for money too. So, Providers will need to able to demonstrate how their Apprenticeship approach and opportunities are right for their Apprentices, from day one on the Apprenticeship Standard and meet not only the requirements of the Apprenticeship Standard, but also the context of the industry sector and business in which they work.

Supporting quality Apprenticeships

We know that IfATE are all about ‘driving the quality of apprenticeships’ in England – as it was the title of their Operational Plan in 2017 and even now the ‘What we do’ section of their website describes their role as ‘…to ensure employers drive apprenticeship quality to the highest level’. The ESFA in the latest funding guidance state that ‘main providers retain clear and transparent accountability for the quality of training provision’. And in an Ofsted audit, Providers must achieve at least an ‘adequate’ grade in order to continue to successfully operate.

What does quality look like in Apprenticeship delivery? There are multiple measures for Apprenticeships:

  • Completions within the expected timeframe, monitored against individual learning plans, which are reviewed regularly with opportunities to revise and adapt built in if required.
  • Training programmes cover the Standard’s required knowledge, skills and behaviours, but also has a rich and varied curriculum which enables the contextualised learning for the sector, industry and individual Employer’s business.
  • Employers recognise value for money for their investment and feel they have job-ready, productive and motivated employees once the Apprenticeship is achieved.
  • The Provider’s Senior Management Team lead a competent Apprenticeship Team, with a consistent and standardised approach to delivery of training and preparing Apprentices for their End-point Assessment, which ensures efficient management of resources and funding.
  • End-point Assessment is passed first time and there are a significant number of higher grades.  

Sound reasonable? The key then is how can Providers evidence quality?

The Provider’s Senior Management Team will need to set the tone, share the message and plans throughout the team, keeping everyone involved and seeking feedback. Training and briefing the different team members from Business Development, Apprenticeship Trainers and Coaches, Quality Assurance and Customer Support Staff with consistent messages to ensure that everyone understands their contribution and the importance of recording, monitoring and reporting activity and regular feedback.

External quality assurance can add an independent, monitoring view and a critical friend; reviewing the activity and mapping to ensure coverage of the skills, knowledge and behaviours in the respective standard. Collectively, this will enable a standardised and consistent approach to Apprenticeship delivery throughout the business, evidenced through the records, identifying where things need to change, and how changes have been made. If any of the provision is sub-contracted, there would be a quality process against which the sub-contractor could be mandated to deliver.

In order for the Apprentice to have a quality experience and to be able to demonstrate distance travelled, it is essential to understand, and keep a record of, their starting point, so that it can be used as a benchmark to monitor progress against. Understanding the entry point, and continually reviewing against this benchmark will identify gaps that need to be filled with additional support in delivery, giving rationale to support curriculum planning. Reviewing against a consistent benchmark will also highlight opportunities to introduce stretch and challenge where and when appropriate.

An initial diagnostic assessment can identify any prior knowledge or skills and can lead to an individual learning plan against which schemes of work and activities can be built, specific to each Apprentice, which can be recorded, and progress tracked through workbooks and electronic portfolios etc.

The Apprenticeship Standard provides the outline of what needs to be covered, it is the skeleton of the programme, but the detail behind how the Standard is to be covered is key. The Provider needs a structure against which the range of teaching and learning resources can be used in order to ensure that the Apprenticeship Standard is covered and the Apprentice’s performance is monitored. In addition this should be done with the End-point Assessment in mind. The Apprentice’s performance can then be assessed throughout the programme using the methods within their End-point Assessment, therefore enabling them to prepare, practice and build confidence towards this assessment to provide the best opportunity for the Apprentice to be successful.

In order for the Employer to gain a quality experience, they will need to be involved from day one and understand exactly what their responsibility is throughout the Apprenticeship training programme and in the End-point Assessment. Through this close involvement, they will witness the growth and development of the Apprentice and the coverage of the Apprenticeship Standard. This will enable them, with confidence, to sign the required declarations at Gateway that they are satisfied that the Apprentice is consistently working at or above the level set out in the Apprenticeship standard and is ready to attempt End-point Assessment.

In summary

At this unforeseen and difficult time for everyone, many Apprentices and Training Provider staff have been furloughed. As the Country gradually starts to return to work, it will be important for Apprentices, with support from their Employer and Training Provider, to resume quality Apprenticeship training, refresh themselves of what they have already covered, continue with their learning plan and prepare for their End-point Assessment. This will be easier and more efficient to achieve if the Apprentice’s progress has been tracked and monitored against an individual learning plan, records kept, and the Employer has been involved throughout.

The Training Provider can continue the commercial drive to ensure that the Apprentice is supported with a truly personal Apprenticeship experience and achieve a successful outcome, the Employer has value for money and a valuable staff member in their Apprentice, and the Provider can achieve forecasted profile payment as efficiently as possible.  

Indeed, if we have a further lockdown and the Apprentice is allowed to continue their training, they could have access to their plan, and with the support of their Apprenticeship Trainer they could continue remote training activity to keep themselves motivated and engaged to provide some continuity.

No-one could have planned entirely for what has happened since March, however now that we have experienced the pandemic we can at least re-plan with our collective experiences in mind, adapt our processes and activity, and with the help of our policy makers support the future Apprentices with the best opportunities to be successful in their careers as we can.    

Gareth Phillips, Vistar

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