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ViewPoint: Driving the Quality Improvement Agenda in #APPRENTICESHIPS
October 14, 2019
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The following article is by Louise Doyle, director of Mesma.

Analysis of Ofsted inspections for apprenticeship provision indicates we still have some way to go to ensure we are getting the basics right – regardless of a new inspection framework says Louise Doyle, director of Mesma.

An examination of the latest Ofsted full inspection reports (April – August 2019) reveals several interesting themes. In summary, the profile for apprenticeships delivered by colleges reveals 8 out of 10 received a grade 3 or below. The same applies for 17 of the 26 independent training providers or employer providers.

Louise Doyle, director of Mesma
Louise Doyle, director of Mesma

Under the reports’ leadership section, we are seeing an ambitious vision as a factor among those providers who are achieving good inspections – supported by leaders prepared to take decisive steps to facilitate change where needed. So far; so good.

However, where leadership is struggling, we can see some common threads: weak governance and external scrutiny having a recurring impact. We see leaders who are slow to bring about improvement where there are lower grades and a lack of quality assurance, including inaccurate self-assessment, improvement planning and ineffective use of data. Poor sub-contractor management is clearly evident in those providers judged to be inadequate.

Poor quality progress reviews, a lack of engagement between the employer, the trainer and the trainee feature in the majority of college’s receiving grade three and four for apprenticeship delivery.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the red flag of the moment; not using information gathered at the learner’s start point to inform the program in knowledge, skills and behaviours, and maths and English which is mentioned often. What I will continue to warn against is the risk that a basic check undertaken prior to an apprentice joining the programme to satisfy funding requirements will suffice ‘initial assessment’.

It reminds me of the days when the completion of learning styles questionnaires was routine yet served no meaningful purpose for students. I recall some heated debates with a previous senior leader I reported into about why we shouldn’t be doing them because they were pointless. I’m glad the research now backs this up. I hope he’s seen it.

When it comes to quality of education, learners receiving good teaching, learning and assessment and support to improve those areas where things are going well. Good assessment practice, targets and feedback are features of those higher-grade reports.

However, issues around consistency still prevail. Weakness of assessment practice, target setting and feedback feature year after year as issues we need to address to improve the quality of provision. The impact of poorly delivered English and Maths features frequently when the grades are lower which won’t be a surprise to any of us.

Bucking the trend

Turning to HE institutions, our universities appear to be bucking the trend that ITPs and FE colleges are experiencing in terms of grade profile. All but 1 of the 9 HEIs inspected were graded as ‘Good’. It is to be applauded that many university senior leaders have been able to clearly articulate the importance of apprenticeships to widening participation and strategic direction more generally.

However, it’s not all sunshine and light because we are seeing some elements of HE senior leadership also failing to have sufficient oversight of quality management.

I don’t think I’m being unfair in stating that some of this success is due to the high volumes of programmes being delivered in the health service, where supervision of new staff is part of the employer’s fabric. This isn’t a criticism; it’s evidence of the important role employers play in driving quality apprenticeship delivery.

Looking at the Ofsted reports also reminds us why providers should quality assure their quality assurance systems to ensure they are doing what you need them to do. Sometimes, it seems like there’s so much quality assurance activity going on that we’re patting ourselves on the back because we do it, rather than reflecting on whether that particular process has an impact. If you do it, how do you use the data to drive improvement? If it doesn’t, why do it? Our clients are often surprised at our quest to strip back their QA rather than pad it out.

So, regardless of the changes being brought in by the new Ofsted framework, it’s clear that there are still some fundamental basics that can be improved to drive improvement across the spectrum. As our colleagues at Ofsted have themselves said, this is not about dancing to the tune of a new framework. Yes, let’s understand the new process of inspection but it doesn’t really change what a good apprenticeship looks like does it?

ViewPoint: Want More School Leavers to Choose Apprenticeships after GCSEs? We Need to See a Genuine Shift in Careers Advice
September 17, 2019
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The following is by Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

During GCSE results day 2019, some figures in business made it clear they want to see more 16-year-olds making the move to apprenticeships rather than A-levels.

“We need to see more young people choosing vocational pathways,” said Andrea Bull, head next generation marketing at Make UK, in a statement hoping to encourage those awaiting GCSE results to consider apprenticeship programmes.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of The Federation of Small Businesses, also highlighted how remaining on the purely academic route isn’t right for all GCSE students, saying:

“Each year pupils will make critical decisions about how they intend to further their education, which for some will mean going onto study A-levels. But while that may suit some pupils entering Sixth Form, it doesn’t help others who may thrive far better elsewhere.”

There was also plenty of talk of the increasing exam pressure young people face, further making the case that for many, moving to a different form of education and training would be beneficial rather than staying on the ‘classrooms and exams’ track of A-levels.

The National Education Union, for example, polled more than 600 members who taught GCSE subjects in England. More than seven out of 10 said their students’ mental health had worsened since new exams were introduced.

The Girlguiding charity reveal the results of its 2019 Girls’ Attitudes Survey on the eve of GCSE results dayIt showed that the majority of girls worry poor exam grades will ruin their future opportunities in life. More than half of girls (52%) say exam pressures affect how happy they are, yet four in five say they don’t get the support they need to manage exam-related stress.

Meanwhile, Childline revealed there were 1,141 counselling sessions delivered to children and teenagers in 2018 to 2019, an increasing by more than 50% since 2014 to 2015 – a fifth of these therapy sessions took place in August, when students receive GCSE and A-level results.

Megan, 17, a spokesperson for Girlguiding, said:

“I know this feeling all too well; I sat my GCSEs last year and I spiralled under the stress. I would often cry myself to sleep, choosing between showering or taking another practice test for physics.”

Despite the difficulty many young people experience under an exam-based system like GCSEs, and the need for more 16-year-olds to take up apprenticeships, the majority of those going on to take Level 3 qualifications (about three in five) are doing so via A-levels rather than moving on to a different form of training and education.

To see a genuine shift in careers advice, everyone needs to be on board

In the whole of the Guardian’s live report of GCSE results day, for example, there was just one mention of a 16-year-old school leaver going on to an apprenticeship.

This anecdotal reporting plays out in the statistics too. While 82% more people aged 25 and above are now doing higher-level apprenticeships at Level 4 and above, apprenticeship starts for 16- to-18-year-olds continue to fall, and Level 2 starts (one of the key levels for those leaving school after GCSEs) have dropped by more than 50% since the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

It seems doubtful – given the stress and angst the system clearly causes for many – that 16-year-olds are so excited about another two years of classroom learning and exams they won’t consider any other option.

What seems more likely is that the people who matter – parents, schools and employers – aren’t promoting apprenticeships as a post-GCSE option as best they could.

This could start earlier in the classroom: Talking about GCSE results as a potential bridge to Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships as well as A-levels and jobs from the word go, rather than later in the process; explaining how a Level 2 apprenticeship could now lead to Levels 3, 4 and above, all with a salary; the job prospects and employability of apprentices (with their hands-on work experience) compared to young people who only have exam results under their belts.

Teachers could be promoting the advantages of Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships to parents too, again early on in their children’s education, and presented as an equal to the option of A-levels. But they can only do this if they’re sufficiently knowledgeable about these advantages, and about the range of Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships on offer.

Employers could help them – and help themselves secure the interest of students considering leaving school after GCSEs – do this by engaging with schools earlier.

The School Leaver Conference is just one way that employers and education professionals can come together to improve their knowledge and awareness of the early careers landscape, and foster new relationships and existing partnerships. If we want more young people to see the value of options other than A-levels, we must try harder.

ViewPoint: Why Doesn’t the Skills Sector get the Importance of Management Skills?
September 11, 2019
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By Mandy Crawford-Lee, Director of Policy and Operations, University Vocational Awards Council.

It seems that every few months a survey is published on the UK’s low productivity together with an analysis of why poor management skills provide part of the explanation for the UK’s productivity gap.

Mandy Crawford-Lee

This August it was the turn of Lloyds Bank with a survey of large manufacturers.

Commenting on the survey in The Times, Lloyds Bank’s head of manufacturing Steve Harris stated:

‘Large manufacturers are being brutally honest about the skills shortage affecting their sector and are highlighting that the problem is most pronounced at management levels.’

He went on to say: ‘Most experts agree good management is key to improving productivity. It is clear the sector needs to invest in up-skilling the next generation of managers now.’

DfE, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE), the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Ofsted should take note of this report – the health of our manufacturing sector is vital to the well being of the UK economy.

The Apprenticeship levy was, of course, introduced as a productivity tax, designed to compel employers to invest more in the training and development of their employees to raise productivity.

Management Apprenticeships, such as the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship and Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship are being used very successfully by UK manufacturers across sectors as diverse as automotive, aerospace, rail, informatics, food & drink, construction/civil engineering, electronics, oil & gas and defence to raise skills levels and productivity.  So good news and something to be celebrated? Not apparently to some in the so-called skills sector.

The schools and further education inspectorate, Ofsted has, for example, been clear in its view that the Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship doesn’t need levy funding. A rather bizarre position given Lloyds Bank’s findings on the need to enhance management skills, which echoes points made in a range of other reports including the Government’s own Industrial Strategy and the position of the Bank of England. Enhancing management skills is fundamental to raising productivity and Apprenticeship is first and foremost a productivity programme. When using management apprenticeships employers are doing exactly what Government has asked them to do: that is develop and use the Apprenticeships their businesses need to raise productivity. So what doesn’t Ofsted get?

Employers paying to rectify a deficiency of the schools’ sector

The response is usually that Apprenticeship should be prioritised for young people, particularly those who don’t achieve a full level 2. But shouldn’t employers have a right to expect the schools’ system and Ofsted to ensure young people achieve a level 2 qualification after 11 years of compulsory education? While no one would deny the need to support young people, it seems inappropriate for Ofsted to argue that a hypothecated productivity tax imposed on employers, the Apprenticeship levy, should be used to fund training programmes to rectify a deficiency of the schools’ sector. After all, doesn’t Ofsted have some responsibility for school standards and performance?

Many in the skills sector have also opposed the growth of management apprenticeships. Some going so far as to argue that level 6 and 7 Apprenticeships shouldn’t be funded by the Apprenticeship levy. Such an argument is, of course, nonsense. If the Apprenticeship levy is about productivity then employers should be able to use it where they need to, regardless of level, to raise productivity. I don’t doubt there are some skills shortage areas in the UK economy at level 2, but if we’re about using Apprenticeship to develop a high skill, high productivity economy provision will increasingly be focused on level 3 – 7, including Management Apprenticeships.

I hope the Treasury, DfE and IfATE take note of the Lloyds Bank report, get behind our large manufacturers and support the use of management apprenticeships to raise skills levels, productivity and UK prosperity. UVAC will be supporting providers deliver the Management Apprenticeships our large manufacturers need. We hope others in the skills sector will do likewise.

Mandy Crawford-Lee, Director of Policy and Operations, University Vocational Awards Council

ViewPoint: The Power of Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Transforming Careers and Lives By Lori A. Jazvac
August 9, 2019
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Shellie Deloyer, founder, coach, and trainer at Bright Futures Solutions describes Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as

“a set of tools, techniques, and skills that empower people to create lasting and transformative changes so they can create the results and outcomes they’re looking for.”

Learning about NLP has given me a refreshing perspective on how to look at life, foster transformation, and build healthy relationships.

NLP is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, USA, in the 1970s.

NLP: The Foundation for Growth and Change

As career professionals, we’ll often encounter clients who feel “stuck” and disempowered in their careers. However, it is not always about their lack of resources, but rather how they are using their conscious mind (the “goal setter”) and unconscious mind (the “goal getter”) to establish and achieve their goals. In fact, the conscious mind can be compared to the captain of a large ship and the unconscious mind as its crew. When the conscious and unconscious minds are in sync, then one gains a clear focus to efficiently achieve their goals.

The Solution Model

Sometimes, we see our clients carrying around disappointments, past regrets, fears, and the pain of career setbacks, all of which can hinder their future success. We can help guide them towards greater clarity, purpose, and motivation by encouraging them to step back to observe their problems and reframe their perspectives. Champion clients to become more aware of their problems, the root causes, and recurring patterns.

How do we steer them towards a solution? We can do so by rechannelling their focus to the skills that need to be developed, then motivating them to leverage those skills, take action, and implement and manage the solution.

Ask your clients this critical question: what is the secondary gain?

Secondary gain is at play when an apparently negative or problematic behaviour provides a positive or beneficial result in some way. The presence of a secondary gain makes the negative or problematic behaviour more likely to continue unless specifically dealt with. An example would be a person who knows that smoking is harmful and no longer socially acceptable, but believes that it’s a good way to relax and look sophisticated.

Secondary gain is often outside of conscious awareness, many layers removed from the presenting problem, so it requires some digging to identify the root. Work with the client to uncover the benefits that he or she gets, regardless of the difficulties and barriers presented by the problem. What pay-off or gain is being achieved that outweighs the pain of having the problem?

By raising their awareness, our clients will uncover some valuable insights and shift from a “problem mindset” where they make excuses and justify their lack of results, into a “solution mindset.” The key really lies in tapping into the unconscious mind more frequently to maximize success.

Some Thoughts from Shellie on Applying NLP in Career Coaching

I asked Shellie about the most important lessons she’s learned from applying NLP in her work with clients, and about how she believes NLP can help career pros in the coaching work they do.

Her response: “I’ve learned how much we all have our own limitations and baggage that we carry around. It’s part of the human experience, regardless of how good or not-so-good your life is, but these limitations hinder the process of living to our potential.

When we commit to cleaning up the past and getting clear on our direction for the future, then we can become empowered to create the life we want to live. NLP gives us the tools to be able to do so.

Awareness is great, and it provides the foundation to know what you need to work on. However, awareness alone doesn’t solve the problem. You then need the tools to be able to reconcile unresolved issues and build new skills that will lead you to your desired outcomes. That’s what NLP provides. It’s a set of tools, techniques, and skills that empower people to create lasting and transformative change.”

Shellie says that NLP gives career pros a very effective tool to reveal the root cause of problems clients present during coaching sessions, resolve these issues, and develop skills that will lead to positive change.

A webinar learning I took away was that helping clients reach their next level of growth involves asking the right questions, actively listening, brainstorming, eliciting values, and helping them discover the solution.

To uncover values, ask the client this question: “What’s important to you in the context of your career?” Repeat the question three times to keep eliciting more responses. Afterwards, have the client rank the values they named in order of importance.

Next, by using visualization, we can help clients to “see” a creative solution in their mind’s eye, and then we work on achieving that solution, step-by-step, while ensuring respect for their values.

NLP Presuppositions: Basic Principles to Respect in NLP Coaching

There are a number of foundational beliefs – or presuppositions – to respect when using NLP with clients, but three of them really resonated with me:

  • People have all the resources they need to succeed and to achieve their desired outcomes. There’s no such thing as a lack of resources. There’s only a lack of resourcefulness.
  • There is no failure, only feedback.
  • All procedures should be designed to increase choice.

When we, as career professionals, adopt these liberating beliefs, we can support our clients in achieving what they may think of as impossible.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”  C. S. Lewis

ViewPoint: Understand Cognitive Science to Work Better by Art Markman
July 9, 2019
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Neuroscience can help people better understand themselves and colleagues, according to academic and author Art Markman

“The fundamental problem with work today is that we start by assuming that everyone else is going to do things in exactly the same way that we would do them. We think ‘how can this person possibly be productive if they are not working in the same way as me?’,” the professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin said.

Speaking at the launch of his book Bring Your Brain To Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career, Markman explained how by having an understanding of psychology individuals can improve their careers and work more effectively with others.

“Science tells us that there are some issues at work that have to be fixed, but if we can understand the underlying psychological issues behind them we’ll be more able to help, and understand how we can use people effectively and help them reach their goals,” he said.

Markman’s book explores how an understanding of neuroscience can help people get more out of work and better understand their motivations.

When people take a traditional approach to their careers they can often end up ignoring some of the complexities of working life, Markman said: “By looking at psychology in the workplace it allows us to manage our own jobs in a more effective way. It can help us think about how there isn’t always a seamless path from getting one job to moving to the next. It helps us to work a little better with people, because we understand why they work in certain ways and that they are different from us.”

One of the main reasons people feel stuck at work is that they feel unable to make mistakes, he explained. Learning how to improvise and move on from failures is key, he said: “The people who have the best ideas are the people who have the most ideas. A lot of them might be bad, but you have to be willing to throw a bunch of stuff out there – even if a lot of it is bad – before you can get to the good stuff. This has emerged from my experience of learning to play the saxophone.

“I would pick it up, play a wrong note, and would get annoyed at myself and stop. My teacher would say ‘why did you stop? That note has gone, why are you getting worried about it? You did something, it was wrong, but stop worrying about it and try something else’.

“The ability to have an idea, figure out it’s a bad idea, and then have another idea is an incredibly powerful way to learn how to improvise.”

Employers can play an important role in allowing people to grow and continue learning, Markman added: “Success in your job should be about your ability to do that job rather than being able to know everything from day one. It should be organisations’ jobs to help you do that.”

ViewPoint: Four Things We Can do to Make Sure that T-levels Are Not Another Wasted Opportunity
July 2, 2019
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Youngsters today are likely to have a 50-year career. T-levels can play a major role in equipping them, if we keep certain strategies in mind, says Stephen Evans

As we wait to find out who will succeed Theresa May, and whether this leads to a changed ministerial team in the Department for Education, one thing that is unlikely to change is the focus on T-levels as a key way to improve skills. How do we make sure they help people in their career aspirations and deliver the skills needs of employers?

The latest report from our Youth Commission, which we set up to consider how to improve education and employment outcomes for young people, shows that young people are likely to have 50-year careers. This means they are likely to change roles a number of times. 

Even if they stay in the same occupation, the skills needed in that occupation are likely to change dramatically. Our report, Tomorrow’s World: Future of the Labour Market, considers how the labour market is likely to change during young people’s working lives, and suggests a number of issues we need to consider in order to make T-levels fit for the future.

Firstly, T-levels need to be both specific, and broad: specific enough to deliver the skills to equip students for their chosen occupational role now, and sufficiently broad in content to focus on how young people can adapt to change and build core employability skills in the future. 

Secondly, T-levels need to be part of a pathway; it’s no good having the best T-levels in the world if there is insufficient progression into them from below level 3, and also pathways from T-levels into more advanced learning.

And we additionally need support for young people who may have done A-levels or other vocational qualifications, but now want to take a different path. We also need to consider how T-levels could or should apply to adults, wanting to update their skills or change careers. 

Likewise, place matters too: what about young people living in an area with too few employers to offer an industry placement? We need to find solutions to ensure T-levels deliver across the country. 

Third, the qualification needs to be recognised by employers. The government is currently grappling with whether to stop funding other vocational qualifications, such as BTECs, or wait until T-levels are the most popular choice before turning off funding for other qualifications. 

Leaving aside that there are some areas that T-levels won’t cover, you don’t make one qualification more credible by stopping the funding of the ones that are in place already. The new qualification on the block will be valued by employers once they are convinced that they have equipped young recruits with the skills they need: given the gradual roll-out of T-levels, this will take time.

The fourth point to consider is the help offered to employers. Our research shows that they want to deliver the industry placement element of T-levels, but they are confused by the array of demands from various government departments. 

Are T-level industry placements a bigger priority than apprenticeships, work placements, work experience etc? If everything’s a priority, then in practice, nothing is.

Finally, we need an overall vision for lifelong learning that sets T-levels in context. The previous decade probably saw too many skills strategies, and it has often felt like a “once in a generation” chance to make things right every few years. But now we have gone to the other extreme of having no strategy. 

Strategies are not the answer to everything but, combined with local leadership, they can support a partnership approach with employers that allows prioritisation and coordination. As our report notes, we don’t know what all future skills requirements will be, but we do know the core basis and the need to build in flexibility.

T-levels are not a silver bullet and we shouldn’t oversell them; there is also a risk that they could follow previous efforts, such as Diplomas, into the lessons of history. But if we work together, set T-levels into the wider context, and work strategically with employers, there is a real opportunity, this time, for things to be different.

ViewPoint by Anne Milton: Developing Skills For The #FutureofWork
June 10, 2019
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Developing skills for the jobs of the future: Helping people develop the skills, and grow the qualification portfolio, so they’re ready for jobs that don’t exist yet.

You can look at that in two ways:

Young People: First of all it’s the people who are young now, so people who are coming up to 16. We need to make sure we’ve got the right courses and qualifications that they need.

Adult Learners: Then of course there’s also adults, who maybe need to up-skill or change their skillset.

T Levels for Young People

For younger people we have got T levels, which are coming in in 2020. The first three T levels will be in: Read more

ViewPoint: What Ofsted’s New Inspection Framework Means for FE by Billy Camden
May 14, 2019
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Ofsted has today published its new and final education inspection framework that will come into effect from September.

It follows a three-month public consultation, which prompted more than 15,000 responses – the highest number the education watchdog has ever received. Read more

ViewPoint: Anne Milton – ‘We are Bringing About a Breakthrough in Careers’
April 29, 2019
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Sixteen months on from the launch of the careers strategy there is a real buzz of excitement about careers, insists the skills minister when talking to TES

When I first became minister of state for skills and apprenticeships, I heard all too often that careers education and guidance was not reaching all those young people most in need of it.

Despite the good intentions and hard work of many, careers provision was patchy and too reliant on a chance encounter or a well-connected parent.

But what if you are from a family without these connections? What if you are from a disadvantaged community and do not have access to a wide range of opportunities?

That is why I was delighted to publish the careers strategy in 2017, which sets out our ambitions for a world-class careers system. Our aim is to create a thriving careers system. One that helps people to make the most of their skills and talents.

Read more

ViewPoint: The Apprenticeship Levy – If Rationing is to be Introduced, Let’s Get it Right
April 5, 2019
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There has been recent scrutiny about the forecasted overspend of the levy. UVAC has been predicting this for some time and now the Institute (IfATE) and the National Audit Office have confirmed this is an issue writes Mandy Crawford-Lee, Director of Policy and Operations, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC).

We are now in a situation where ‘proposals’ for a way forward are being put forward, so here is a view from the perspective of an organisation that wants the levy to be used to raise productivity, enhance social mobility and support the delivery of high-quality public services.

Bizarre Proposals: We’ve had some fairly curious proposals on how to manage such an overspend.

AELP has called for an end to using the levy to fund level 6 and 7 and degree apprenticeships.

So as UVAC has said on many occasions, it is the case that AELP wants to stop police forces using their levy payments to fund the police constable degree apprenticeship to train new police officers and prevent the NHS from training new nurses through a degree apprenticeship. Read more