Tom Burton in Wembley

Friday the 13th of March 2020, a date I think that will stick in my memory. I, as so many colleagues from the sector, attended the ESFA’s annual EPAO conference in London. Coronavirus was starting to come over the horizon, we discussed the problem and issues the virus could cause and tossed around a few potential solutions at the lunch. That afternoon, I instructed all of NOCN’s EPA team to take their IT equipment home, to test the contingency and operate the EPAO on a 100% working from home basis.

The team as a whole never returned to the office

Everything in our world had changed; almost every single step and process in an apprentice’s journey was turned on its head. From the IAG, to enrolment, to off and on the job training and EPA. All changed in the blink of an eye.

We are now almost a year on and the pandemic is still causing havoc for apprentices, I think the question of “what about the apprentice” is still too often missed in the COVID response conversation, understandably the focus due to volume, is placed on GCSE and A-Level learners.

However, the well-published issues on functional skills exams, the decline in potential new opportunities, amendments and EPA flexibilities, closures of colleges, and of course the future pressing issue of “Skills Lag” caused by furlough and redundancy. All are having a compounding effect on the apprentice.

However, the effects of “Skills Lag” is one, which concerns me the most

Having worked in almost all of the parts of the “apprenticeship” system, the effect of the pandemic on the ability of apprentices is the most worrying, as we look at a post-vaccine future. Skills fade, lag, drop off, whatever you label it as, in my opinion, should be one of the top risks for all stakeholders in the sector.

The first lockdown saw almost a complete shutdown of “in-person” skills programmes. It was, in many parts treated as a one-off. With an immense effort undertaken by providers to re-engage, deliver online and keep the train on the tracks. Nevertheless, as the second and third lockdown deepened the engagement issues, the lack of practical skills development has started to bite.

“Skills Lag” could be explained as many things, but simply put the “lag effect” is for me, is the loss of high-quality skill development, in-person mentoring and support, a lag caused by a side-effect of trying to halt the pandemic.

This, of course, is exacerbated each time we have a new work at home order, or enforced college closure, a class or cohort “circuit breaker”, COVID self-isolation, COVID positive isolation, employer furloughs, teaching staff isolation, material shortages. This list can go on. Of course, it absolutely nobody’s fault, it is simply the situation we have and I have been amazed by the efforts taken by providers to keep the show on the road. These people deserve commending, providing a vital service and support to the future economy.

...but what about the apprentice?

What to do? For me it will be back to that question “but what about the apprentice?" The advent of End Point Assessment and the recent commitment by the Department for Education, Education Skills Funding Agency, The Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education to continuing where safe, the End Point Assessment process. Is a key assurance mechanism in the control of quality? “Of course, he would say that”, I can hear you say. He is the director of an EPAO!

However, that aside, having “Skills Lag” on your radar is of vital importance in maintaining a successful EPA process for your apprentices.

Therefore, here are a few top tips for addressing “Skills Lag” with your apprentices.

  • Presumption on skills, should at all cost be avoided.

Completed time on programmes is not simply a measure of competence. Pre-assessment, on-programme assessments, mini-gateways and “re-gatewaying” should all be a consideration to ensure apprentices are at the right level.

  • Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours reflection. Making sure that both the provider and employer evaluate and re-assess the competencies of the K,S,Bs after any breaks in learning, furlough or gap in skills delivery. Be honest in this process. EPA will be honest.
  • Check the validity of any submitted evidence which may be needed for the EPA. How long ago was it compiled, is it still a true reflection of the apprentice. Is the apprentice now producing better work than previously submitted? Don’t miss an opportunity to reach a higher grade. See the experiences gained in the pandemic as a positive.
  • Tracking and using “on the job” evidence. So much has been written and discussed about “off the job”. But 80% of the apprentices time is with the employer. Capturing this evidence is a hidden gem.
  • Timing and skill ability. Some EPAs still have practical requirements. One of the biggest effects of “Skills Lag” has been on an apprentice’s ability to work at speed and to a high tolerance level. Practice or mock scenarios, timed practical tasks, the pressure of timed delivery should all be a consideration, when bringing the apprentice back up to speed.
  • Difficult conversations with the apprentice and the employer on any effect of “Skills Lag” must take place. Everyone will be keen to achieve their apprenticeship. But an open and honest conversation must be had to address any concerns. The EPA process will uncover any of those deficiencies. Simply processing an apprentice through EPA because of time pressure, should be avoided.
  • Making sure those who are ready, can. The guidance by the DfE to continue with practical assessments and EPAs in February and March, should be grasped as an opportunity to achieve those who are ready. Campus closures to all other learners present a provider with an opportunity to complete those EPAs, which require practical workshops and spaces.
  • Speak with you EPAO if you have concerns on backlog/bottlenecks or have a need to address a specific concern. EPAOs are their to service you and your employer. Often we can find a solution.

Thomas Burton – Director of Apprenticeships NOCN

Thomas’ career began in Hospitality and Catering in 1997 and was the Senior Sous Chef at Doncaster Racecourse for six years, during this time he completed his teacher training at Doncaster College. Thomas continued in Hospitality and Catering and became the culinary project manager at the London 2012 Olympics, where he delivered part of the largest catering operation since World War Two.

Thomas has taught Hospitality and Catering at both Dearne Valley College and Rotherham College of Arts & Technology. Thomas spent three years as the Quality and Curriculum manager for an independent training provider, overseeing apprenticeship delivery in Management, Hair, Healthcare, and Hospitality.

Since 2017, Thomas has established the Apprenticeship End Point Assessment Organisation at NOCN Group, as well as delivering Apprenticeship projects in India on behalf of the UK Government. He is also the Governor of Apprenticeships and Further Education, for DN Colleges Group.

NOCN Group was established in 1987 as a grassroots education charity and has always been there for the benefit learner, NOCN Group has recently launched NOCN vLearn - an innovative, learning ecosystem that supports your organisation's unique needs and brings virtual on-demand learning to life!

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page