Mesma’s Louise Doyle (right) wants greater clarity around apprenticeship quality assurance measures

Louise Doyle, director at online quality improvement specialists MESMA, welcomes the latest the apprenticeship reforms but wants to see greater clarity surrounding external quality assurance measures.

Speaking as the Government reaffirms its commitment to create three million apprenticeships by 2020, Louise says that while the future of apprenticeships is being redefined at policy level, the high quality delivery of apprenticeships under the existing frameworks remains the strongest indicator of the ease with which independent training providers and colleges will transition to the new model.

Apprenticeship reform is welcome says Louise, but the emphasis must be on quality rather than achieving a volume target, adding: “In relation to teaching, learning and assessment, providers who already have good on-programme delivery are among the least nervous about the changes ahead of us.

“The mainstays of high quality work-based education - good initial assessment, good advice and guidance, an emphasis on an individual learning plan that encompasses both training and assessment - remain at the core of the reforms.

“However, what does need to be considered is the implication for progress monitoring when we factor in a graded end point assessment before establishing quality assurance arrangements that take into account employers delivering some of the on-programme activity.

“The risk of poor inspection or more importantly, an apprentice not achieving remains predominantly with the provider, remains prevalent.

“The reforms rely to an extent on quality being measured as a result of a value-based model as a consequence of employers contributing to the cost, and therefore demanding more from apprenticeship providers.

“It remains to be seen if this is a robust assumption. However, we still have other government driven external quality assurance in the form of Ofsted for on programme delivery and additional external QA for the new end point assessment organisations, with the employer groups determining the best model as part of the assessment planning process.

“Focusing on on-programme teaching, learning and assessment, the Ofsted chief inspector remains consistent in openly sharing his concerns about apprenticeship quality. His view seems to be at odds with the outcome of inspection reports, which have approximately 70% of further education providers at grade 1 or 2. Nevertheless, this still leaves over 30% who are not.”

Louise Doyle quotes from Ofsted’s annual report on apprenticeships to substantiate the chief inspector’s comments beyond what’s reported in the news.

1. The quality of the apprenticeships varied considerably. One of the most important factors that affected apprentices’ experience was the amount and quality of training they received. The best programmes gave apprentices the training that they needed to prepare them for long-term employment. In contrast, the weakest apprenticeships provided too little high-quality training and so failed to prepare the apprentices for sustained employment in their chosen industry.

2. Inspectors identified a marked difference between the quality of apprenticeships, according to the sector and the age of the apprentice.

3. Sectors with an established tradition of apprenticeships typically had…

  • A higher proportion of apprentices aged 16 to 24 than those aged 25 and over

  • Apprenticeships that provided substantial training at the beginning of an apprentice’s career

  • Employers and providers who collaborated well to plan and coordinate training

  • Apprentices who indicated to inspectors that they had enhanced their chances of sustained employment.

4. Inspectors found much of the weaker provision in sectors where providers and employers had little previous experience of apprenticeships. The weakest apprenticeships were often in the care, customer service, administration and retail sectors - sectors that tended to have…

  • A higher proportion of apprentices aged 25 and over

  • Apprenticeships that frequently involved little or no formal training

  • Apprentices who said they had not always developed new skills that prepared them for long-term employment. Indeed, some of these learners were unaware they were even on an apprenticeship programme.

Louise Doyle believes that regardless of policy reforms these statements could potentially stay true if we were to look back at apprenticeships from 2020.

“I believe the reforms present us with an opportunity to tackle poor delivery where it exists and celebrate all that is good about apprenticeships,” she says. “Large scale change will ultimately come from micro level decision-making, with each individual provider determining their own future and that of their apprentices and employers.

“Having the right QA in place will have to be a critical feature for the future, enabling those with responsibility for apprenticeships’ delivery and assessment to monitor and track the success, or not, of programmes from the start to finish.

“For any employer delivered training, it is important to have measurement and accountability. So in the brave new world of apprenticeship reform, the role of the verifier won’t diminish; rather it will become even more important as the capacity to be able to oversee the successful delivery of qualifications tops the training agenda.”

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