Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

With such a rapid expansion in the number of apprenticeship standards (over 450 approved to date), I thought I would share my experience of supporting the curriculum design and content of an apprenticeship standard.

My input was to bring the vocational/sector expertise to the design whilst working alongside experienced curriculum design experts.

This curriculum design was then used with the employers of the apprentices to fine tune the design of the apprenticeship to ensure it was fit for purpose for purpose, deliverable, and remained true to the Standard.

Know your market

Before you start, this will sound obvious, but know your market. Designing an apprenticeship curriculum takes time from a range of experts, so a training provider will need to have engaged with employers and identified the business potential for that investment.

This will also form the building blocks of the close relationships with employers required in the design and delivery of an apprenticeship curriculum.

To effectively begin the design, I would recommend a team made up of:

  • People with first-hand and relevant experience in the sector/occupational/vocational area of the standard you are designing the curriculum for
  • People with expertise and experience in curriculum / apprenticeship training design and delivery
  • People with a good understanding of Ofsted and the ESFA Funding Rules.

By bringing together this expertise I believe that you will be able to begin designing an occupationally relevant apprenticeship curriculum whist ensuring that you are embedding underpinning principles of Equality, diversity and inclusion into what is designed, alongside requirements such as robust initial assessments, maths and English at the appropriate level, and plans for the correct balance of on and off the job training and learning.

Read the Standard and the associated Assessment Plan

Another obvious, but still so critical, make sure you, and all those involved, have read the Standard and the associated Assessment Plan.

It may sound simple, but I have seen examples of curriculum being designed around an old apprenticeship framework or a pre-existing qualification, without sufficient regard to the knowledge, skills, and behaviours (KSB) requirements of the standard, or of how they will be assessed.

I am not saying that looking at old apprenticeship frameworks or pre-existing qualifications as a starting point is wrong, but you must always design based around the requirements of the standard.

And don’t forget, if a qualification is not mandated within the standard then public funding will not pay for the registration, examination, or certification of a qualification if the training provider or the employer choose to embed one within the apprenticeship curriculum.

I had the luxury, although some may see it as a challenge, that there was no predecessor apprenticeship framework, and there were no mandated qualifications, in the apprenticeship I was involved in designing, which meant that the entire curriculum needed to be designed from scratch. For me that was refreshing and provided the opportunity for innovation in the design.

Work backwards

When it comes to the design, possibly one of the strangest things you may think I am recommending is to work backwards!

You have the Standard and you have the assessment plan, so you know what needs to be achieved (the outcome) and over what time period.

It therefore, makes sense to use the ‘outcome’ to help to plan the input.

This is not about training to the assessment, it is about using the Standard and Assessment plan to design a fit for purpose apprenticeship curriculum that will deliver the KSBs of the standard, build a confident apprentice that is competent in their work and able and ready to enter end-point assessment.

Designing the curriculum

What I am explaining next is how I worked to begin designing the curriculum. I am not saying that this is the right way, or the only way, to do it, as approaches will vary depending on the detail of the standard and assessment plan, but I wanted to share my experience.

Stage 1 – I read and re-read the standard and assessment plan, to make sure I understood all of the KSBs and assessment methods.

Stage 2 – I produced a chart with 4 columns. The first column was the KSB from the standard, the second column was the detail of the KSB from the standard (sometimes this may come from the assessment plan, and may be referred to as a ‘learning outcome’), the third column was the end-point assessment method and detail (if known) from the assessment plan, and the fourth column was the method of training/learning. This 4th column will not come from the standard or assessment plan, it was where I, with my sector/occupational expertise, was able to interpret the standard and assessment plan requirements to identify what and how the apprentice could learn the relevant KSB. The challenge I found with this approach was that I did encounter overlap and duplication, especially when I reached the ‘Behaviours’, as these are embedded across knowledge and skills, but it did enable me to start identifying blocks of learning / modules, to identify which elements may enable to apprentice to demonstrate characteristics for a pass, merit or distinction, and to work out how the apprenticeship delivery could be structured.

Stage 3 – I worked with the curriculum experts on the team to identify how and where to embed maths and English, prevent, safeguarding, equality and diversity, health and safety and equal opportunity into the design. It was also important at this stage to make sure all proposed blocks of learning / modules were accessible, with or without reasonable adjustments.

Stage 4 – I worked with experts on the design team to research if there were any pre-existing training resources that would cover certain elements of the KSBs, and to map those into the blocks of learning / modules

Stage 5 – I worked with experts on the design team to identify which elements could be carried out in the work place, which elements would be off the job and what the employer, training provider and apprentice would need to do to ensure effective delivery. For example, if the apprentice has to demonstrate an understanding of their business, the employer has a clear role in providing the apprentice with details and training in their organisation structure, purpose, KPIs and so on. Equally, of the apprentice has to demonstrate an understanding of project management techniques then the training provider has a role in ensuring the apprentice receives training in differing project management techniques, and there may well be a role for the employer to provide the opportunity for an apprentice to practice a project management technique in their job.

Stage 6 – fine tune the design and the requirements alongside the employer (in reality, this will probably join up with stage 5). Whilst employer involvement is absolutely critical in the design to ensure successful delivery, I found that their involvement was most effective once the baseline of learning modules / blocks / design had been created. By approaching it this way it meant that the curriculum design consistently mapped to the KSBs and was fine tuned to the employer rather than the employer setting their own interpretation of the standard. It also gave the employer confidence that the training provider understood the requirements of the apprenticeship.

Stage 7 – I used what we had designed to develop skills scan unique to that apprenticeship to support the initial assessment. Not only does this help identify prior learning, but it also enables the trainers to fine tune the delivery in accordance with ability and to tailor the support. It can also form the basis of apprentice reviews as they progress through the apprenticeship.

Stage 8 - finalise materials, guidance documents, timetables, review and reporting processes and so on, to ensure successful delivery. In terms of guidance I found it helpful to produce a managers guide to the apprenticeship, and apprentice guide to the apprenticeship, and a guide to end-point assessment.

I hope that this is a helpful summary, please remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ and that these are my personal insights into apprenticeship curriculum design.

I may not have covered everything, but what I have learnt is that it takes time and team work, whilst at the same time provides a real opportunity for innovation and creativity.

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

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