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Covid-19 apprenticeship flexibility measures to run to end of 2021

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@IFAteched – Apprenticeship flexibilities and temporary discretions introduced to support the sector through Covid-19 will run until the end of 2021, but a number will then come to an end.

In February of this year, the Institute committed to provide at least a three-month notice period before making any changes to the current apprenticeship flexibilities and discretions. However, more notice is now being given in acknowledgement of the on-going impact of the virus and to help with planning.

An Institute spokesperson said: “Over the last year and a half, flexibilities have made a huge difference to tens of thousands of people, helping apprentices to move forward despite the pandemic.

“We want to take what we have learnt and keep on improving, but also give stability – which is why nothing is changing until 2022.”

Many of the flexibilities (which apply to all apprenticeships) will be retained as permanent amendments, where it is clear they represent an improvement on the arrangements which were in place before Covid-19.
Temporary discretions (which only apply to specific apprenticeships), will all begin their notice period from today and be switched off on 31 December 2021.

However, where there remain exceptional challenges to apprentices being able to complete their end point assessments it will be possible to ask for the temporary discretions to be retained. Interested parties will have until the beginning of October to do so. The Institute will be prepared to take a sectorial approach if this is justified, and will keep listening to feedback.
The Institute has engaged extensively with the sector to listen to everyone’s views on what impact the flexibilities and temporary discretions have had. This took the shape of a far-reaching survey, commissioned research targeting apprentices and employers, and speaking to end point assessment organisations (EPAOs), training providers, trailblazer groups and representative bodies.

An Institute spokesperson added: “We are grateful for the time people have put in to giving us feedback, which has made a real difference.

“As a result, we are confident that end point assessment will be as valid and reliable as ever going forward”

Apprenticeship flexibilities

There are ten different types of flexibilities, which have been used throughout Covid-19 to help ensure assessment can continue. Apprenticeship flexibilities (which apply universally to all apprenticeships) will be retained where they genuinely add value. Seven of the flexibilities are going to be retained permanently.

These flexibilities will remain optional, to be used for the benefit of apprentices where appropriate.

The seven are:

  • assessment gateway sign off being done remotely;
  • pauses being allowed between elements of end point assessments;
  • assessment element delivery being in any order;
  • simulated environments being used instead of observation in workplaces;
  • remote delivery of assessment (including invigilation);
  • assessments taking place outside of usual venues;
  • assessment exams being online instead of on paper.

It will be necessary to make some minor adjustments to make sure that quality can always continue to be protected once the impact of Covid-19 is significantly diminished. The Institute will publish full guidance to explain exactly how the seven flexibilities above should be applied from 2022 later this summer.

The Institute plans to discontinue three types of flexibilities from 1 January 2022, depending on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic at that time. Where necessary, this deadline may be extended for specific sectors still experiencing disruption due to Covid-19.

The three, with reasoning, are:

  • The extension to the length of the end assessment period – because it disadvantages apprentices to have a long wait for their end point assessment (EPA)  after passing through gateway.
  • Changes to who sits on assessment panels – during the Covid-19 period it wasn’t always possible to have an employer sit on a panel as many were furloughed or busy elsewhere. As the economy returns to normal, the original assessment plan can now be delivered, helping to protect quality for apprentices, maintain validity and improve learning for future apprentices.
  • Allowing other suitable evidence of achievement to be used in place of mandated qualifications – this is no longer needed because the mandated qualifications should become available as restrictions are relaxed.

The Department for Education has agreed to continue the flexibility waiving the requirement for level 2 apprentices to take level 2 functional skills tests. This was communicated to the sector via an update on 31 June and is in the new 21/22 funding rules.

Temporary discretions

For temporary discretions (which only apply to specific apprenticeships), all will begin their notice period from today and be switched off on 31 December 2021.

However, we recognise that the situation may change in the intervening period and vary across sectors. 

Where there remain exceptional challenges to apprentices being able to complete their end point assessments (EPA) it will be possible to ask for temporary discretions to be retained beyond this period, and you should speak to your end point assessment organisation (EPAO) or the external quality assurance provider (EQAP) in the first instance to discuss. EQAPs can then formally pass on the request to the Institute, and must do so by 1 October to guarantee a resolution before the cut-off date. 

It is the Institute’s intention that any change that is retained must meet the overarching rules around apprenticeship quality, for instance ensuring independence, and be heavily informed by the opinion of the trailblazer group that sponsors the apprenticeship; the Insitute will consider the continuation of a discretion in consultation with the relevant trailblazer group.  Where contentious, the relevant route panel will also be consulted. 

All of the information already submitted to the Institute as part of our flexibilities survey, which took place in spring, will be made available to trailblazers to aid the decision-making process. The recommendation from the relevant trailblazer group will be central to the decision to retain a discretion; the timing allows for proper consultation with trailblazer groups. It is the Institute’s intention to announce those discretions that will be retained no later than 14 December 2021. 

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