This article by Hilary Read looks at where to begin when planning a curriculum of vocational teaching and learning for the on-programme element of apprenticeship standards.

It is an update to her previous article, "On programme Planning for New Apprenticeships" and is based on the webinars and CPD days Hilary runs for providers on the reforms to apprenticeships and what these mean for teaching and assessment.

Apprenticeship standards are broken down into the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed by apprentices.Each standard is accompanied by an assessment plan that describes in detail the end-point assessment process and, although these are a useful reference point, they are not the curriculum of teaching and learning and should not dictate the sequencing of your on-programme planning.

Instead, bear in mind basic principles of planning and delivering an effective programme of vocational teaching and learning linked to the workplace when putting together your programme.

Here are some strategies to get you started

1. Be flexible

Overall, your planning needs to be flexible enough to allow for:

  • The individual learner’s needs to be taken into account following initial and diagnostic assessment of their current abilities and potential
  • The apprenticeship standard: remember this isn’t the curriculum but you can use the standard to ensure you have covered everything
  • The individual job role and employer: successful on-programme providers offer tailor-made solutions to employers. They do this by auditing the workplace, identifying the work tasks that the apprentice performs and pinpointing times that might be suitable for learning – days or times when the apprentice is less busy or could be released, then offering a delivery plan to suit.

2. Start with the main work tasks

One strategy is to start by identifying the main tasks that apprentices carry out, then analyse and sequence these as you would do normally when putting together a vocational programme, making links to the underpinning knowledge, skills and behaviours in the apprenticeship standard as you go.

This also tells you the points at which you may need to subcontract out any specialist training or carry out training to meet legal requirements. For example, all new entrants to Health and Adult Care need to undergo the Care Certificate as part of their induction.

3. Make links between on and off-job training

Take account of the need for 20% off-the-job training.

This doesn’t have to be traditional day-release away from the workplace, however, it does have to be:

  • Away from the apprentice’s usual place of work (for example, completing an e-learning course in between taking calls in a call centre doesn’t count, but undertaking e-learning on two afternoons a week in the company training room instead of working does).
  • Directly relevant to the knowledge, skills and behaviours within the apprenticeship standard.

Activities that don’t count towards the 20% are:

  • Inductions to the training programme and/or the workplace
  • Compulsory training conducted by the employer for all employees
  • Progress reviews
  • Summative assessment towards any qualifications.

Don’t just let the off-job training happen in isolation: learners become de-motivated if they can’t see the relevance of any off-job training and you will lose credibility with employers if you cannot show how theory and practice are linked to the job.

4. Formalise the learning contexts

To help you plan for and capture where and when teaching, training and learning happen, you will find it useful to identify the context within which learning takes place.

The main contexts for learning are:

  • On-job
  • Off-job
  • Near-job (for example, where you or the trainer takes the apprentice aside from their normal job for a specific coaching session)[1].

You need tools in place to capture these last two contexts so that you can show where and how the mandatory 20% training happens, particularly if you plan to use individualised or blended approaches.


5. Identify opportunities for embedding English, maths and ICT

Use the main job tasks you have already identified as a starting point for planning teaching and learning of English, maths and ICT. If these skills are taught as necessary to the skills, knowledge and behaviours within the apprenticeship standard and to the job they are learning, apprentices are more likely to see their relevance to working life.

6. Plan for the gateway requirements, including vocational qualifications

These might comprise qualifications, licences to practice, specialist courses, on-programme portfolios or all of these. If you’re assessing qualifications, change your approach and plan for teaching and learning first, with summative assessment taking place only when the apprentice is consistently performing to the standards (usually towards the end of the programme) or you risk setting the learner up for failure at end-point assessment.

7. Plan for end-point assessment (EPA)

Have a formal plan for how the apprentice will be prepared for EPA right from the start, including:

  • Introducing ‘bite-sized’ practice under EPA conditions from the early stages of the programme as they are taught, such as completing questions or a particular task under timed conditions.
  • Experience of the main assessment methods. For example: under mock test conditions, panel interviews, and being observed by an assessor the apprentice has not met before.
  • Producing evidence that needs to go forward for EPA in advance. For example, reflective diaries, projects and assignments plus supporting statements from employers.

8. Plan for quality assurance

Include how you will recognise ‘success’ and improve at each stage and say what success looks like. You can use the CIF, the professional standards for teachers (from the ETF) and/or professional standards within the industry.

As a general principal, follow the quality assurance cycle ensuring you gain feedback from your frontline delivery staff on how well the programme is working so that you can make adjustments as you go.

9. Plan for CPD and updating of those delivering and assessing

Don’t forget the needs of those involved in on-programme delivery, including subcontractors such as freelance coach assessors.

Make sure:

  • Staff possess up-to-date occupational skills and knowledge in the areas they are teaching and/or assessing
  • Staff possess up-to-date knowledge and experience in teaching and assessing: don’t take for granted that your staff and subcontractors understand what the changes mean for their practice
  • Their skills and experience meet any requirements laid out in the assessment plan (some contain explicit guidance, others don’t)
  • You and your delivery staff have the resources to meet the range of working contexts and/or experiences required by the apprenticeship standard and assessment plan. Bear in mind that some of these might be lacking in the apprentice’s workplace to cover everything and you might need to make alternative arrangements for them to meet all parts of the standard.

In summary

Remember that apprenticeships are about teaching and learning new knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Evidence-based approaches to assessment are no longer appropriate, there needs to be formal planning and delivery of vocational teaching linked to the individual job or you undermine the individual apprentice’s achievements and the apprenticeship brand.

The Richard Review put it like this (my emboldening):

“Not … the intricate detail of today’s occupational standards, or the micro-level prescription of today’s vocational qualifications, which drive a focus on continuous bureaucratic box-ticking and assessment and obscure the real task of an apprenticeship – to teach new knowledge and skills and demonstrate to future employers that an apprentice can do their job.

… Continuous and time-consuming assessment, driven by paper-based tests, accumulated ‘evidence’ and assessors with a vested interest in apprentices passing the test, demeans the apprentice’s accomplishment.” : Pages 7 - 8: The Richard Review of Apprenticeships, (2012).

Hilary Read, Author and publisher of guides and e-resources for vocational teachers and assessors.

About Hilary: She currently works with AAOs, training providers, colleges of FE, employer networks and employers on delivering apprenticeships and upskilling end-point assessors. She is the author and publisher of ‘The best assessor’s guide’ one of a best-selling series of practical guides for practitioners within the FE and Skills sector. She has introduced a new subscription service for vocational assessors, teachers and QAs via her website for access to practical activities, webinars, handouts and activities to help practitioners and their trainers with current changes. © Hilary Read, 2018.


[1] See Read, H. with Gravells, A. (2015) The best vocational trainer’s guide pages 11 – 12 for a full explanation of the near-job context.

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