Chris Cherry, Senior Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

Grading is a new concept for apprenticeships. It’s a key feature of the new (end-point) assessment approach.

But are you, as a trainer, looking at ways in which you might introduce your apprentices to the concept of grading as part of the training programme?

Although grading is used in other FE programmes (BTECs, for example), for many involved in apprenticeship delivery, it will be a new and challenging concept. 

However, where introduced carefully, the concept of grading on-programme can better prepare apprentices for the end-point assessment, provide quantitative measures to support the monitoring of progress, and help you to set targets for the apprentice (with their employer) to stretch and challenge their learning.

In this article, SDN Strategic Associate, Chris Cherry, gives some helpful advice and reassurance that should allow you to dip you toe into the world of on-programme grading, improve your confidence and help you start introducing grading in a way that supports better outcomes for apprentices.

So here goes…


Introducing the concept of grading

Although it isn’t a requirement to grade on-programme, carefully introducing graded assessment, as part of the training programme, can be beneficial because:

  • Where used carefully it can act as a powerful motivator for apprentices
  • It provides tangible and evidence-based records of progress and achievement
  • Provides easy-to-record and display evidence for learner training plans, facilitating the management of targets and milestones
  • Helps the apprentice to become familiar with how they will be assessed at the end-point assessment

It will also help you to understand where and how an assessor might look for evidence to grade the end-point assessment.

Knowing what they are looking for, and how they might judge what they see, can only benefit the training programme and help you better prepare your apprentices.

So, how can you get started?

1. Check assessment plans and EPAO guidance for grading criteria to help clarify what levels of achievement look like in practice

It is important that on-programme trainers fully understand the grading criteria for apprenticeship standards and how higher levels of achievement are judged, to inform the training programme.

Most assessment plans now have grading criteria included. Look at how you might unpick the criteria to map out what evidence you’d want to see from an apprentice.

Talk to EPAOs too. Most EPAOs will share detailed information with you about the grading criteria and process once they have been selected. You don’t need EPAO guidance to get going, but it is helpful in confirming your approach, particularly as the apprentice nears the gateway and end-point assessment.

2. At the outset you could use ‘pass +’ rather than merit or distinction

Although it is advisable to engage with the EPAO early on, there may be cases where you won’t have access to detailed guidance until later in the programme. Those who haven’t had any apprentices take end-point assessments already, may also lack confidence.

Using slightly different language for on-programme grading can help you to get started, feel more confident as a trainer, and provide a helpful mechanism to measure progress and set targets to stretch the apprentice.

For example:

Not yet achieved

  • Insufficient evidence meeting the criteria set out in the assessment plan
  • What is presented isn’t yet sufficient for a pass


  • Evidence they are meeting the criteria for a pass set out in the assessment plan
  • Able to carry out the job and deemed to be competent in the specific knowledge, skill or behaviour element

Pass +

  • Can work independently without supervision
  • Employer is confident to let them use their own judgement

3. Be intentional and introduce grading at the right time

To get started, don’t try and grade every single piece of work or type of assessment.

It’s a good idea to formulate, in your scheme of work, when you plan to carry out grading activity.

This could be at the end of modules of activity for example, but it’s important not to focus on grading too early in the programme as apprentices are unlikely to be working to ‘pass’ from the outset and may get demotivated if they are repeatedly told they aren’t competent.

As you move towards the gateway, it is particularly helpful to start introducing some graded activity that directly relates to the assessment methods the apprentice will face at the end-point assessment.

4. Share your grading with the employer

Most employers want their apprentices to achieve the highest grade they possibly can.

Telling the employer or line manager what level you think the apprentice is working at, and what they need to work on to reach the next level, will almost certainly spark them into helping you achieve it.

5. Review grading with your team regularly

It’s important to review and moderate your grading consistency with your team.

Running internal workshops regularly to look at pieces of evidence collectively, to judge, grade and discuss with your peers, will help your organisation set a clearer, more robust and consistent grading process – which, over time, will becoming second nature to you.

Chris Cherry, Senior Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

In September, SDN is hosting a 5-part webinar series on how to prepare your apprentices for end-point assessment. The series includes sessions and examples of on-programme assessment and grading for apprenticeship standards, to help you and your teams build confidence.

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