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ESFA Apprenticeship Audit: Common Errors and how to Avoid Them
December 10, 2019
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A Tribal Group Blog by Carla Martinho

On 11th June 2019 the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published the snappily titled “Common findings from funding assurance work on post-16 providers and institutions” guidance document. It summarises the findings from the agency’s annual programme of assurance visits (in other words, audits) of providers delivering:

ESFA apprenticeship audit: common errors and how to avoid them
  • 16 to 19 study programmes
  • apprenticeships
  • adult education budget (AEB)
  • Advanced Learner Loans

For apprenticeships, there were no real surprises contained in the guidance if you have been working closely with the sector since the reforms were implemented (or more accurately started).

Here’s a summary of the key findings relevant to apprenticeships and some tips for avoiding them to ensure a smooth and successful audit:

1. Recognition of prior learning

Some providers have failed to reduce the funding claimed for learners who have relevant prior learning. The ESFA has even introduced a new report in the Provider Data Self-Assessment Tool (PDSAT) to help providers understand where they may have failed to reduce the price – and to allow the Agency to monitor provider data on this too of course.

Top tip: If you aren’t checking your ILR data using the PDSAT every month, start now. And if all of your apprenticeships are charged at the same rate for all learners, then the likelihood is that you have an issue and need to review who should have their funding reduced because of prior learning or experience.

2. Ineligible costs

You can’t calculate how to reduce the funding for RPL if you don’t have a model of how the costs of the apprenticeship have been calculated in the first place using eligible costs only.

Top tip: Create a template for calculating the cost of every apprenticeship standard or framework you deliver and check this against the eligible costs in the funding rules. Use this baseline model of costing to justify your Total Negotiated Price (TNP) price and amend this baseline to evidence reduction of price tailored for each learner who has RPL.

3. Minimum duration

This is one of the easiest rules to comply with and yet according to the recent findings, it’s one of the most common – and potentially most costly – errors! If this condition is not met, the whole apprenticeship for that learner will be ineligible for funding.

Top tip: As well as checking that all your apprenticeships meet the minimum duration rules, double-check that reducing the content of the apprenticeship to account for RPL doesn’t take the length of the apprenticeship below the minimum duration.

4. Off-the-job training

This is another one essential for funding, and if this condition is not met, the whole apprenticeship for that learner is ineligible for funding.

Top tip: Like the top tip for eligible costs, create a template for modelling how off-the-job training will be delivered for every framework or standard during the given duration. Then tailor it for every apprentice who has the content reduced due to RPL. Evidence of actual off-the-job training needs to be recorded for every learner and needs to evidence that it matches the model.

Check that 20% off-the-job has actually been delivered before completion and/or end point assessment.

5. Commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement

The information recorded on the commitment statement must reconcile with the apprenticeship agreement and the ILR. The absence of this evidence may result in a funding error.

Top tip: This isn’t just an induction process – you may need to update all three documents with relevant changes in circumstances such as breaks in learning, changes of job title, pathway or standard.

6. Learning start, learner status, learning end dates

This one is as old as the hills and sounds very simple, yet so many providers get caught out by it. Basically, if you are claiming funding for a learner starting their apprenticeship, you need to have evidence that they have started learning – not just been enrolled, inducted or started a new job. You need evidence that they have to have started learning activity related to the content of their apprenticeship.

Once they have started, if an apprentice is noted on your ILR as in learning, you need to be able to evidence at audit that they are undertaking learning on an ongoing basis. Again, don’t assume that attendance at work or college is evidence of learning, unless you can prove that they were there doing learning activity which forms part of their apprenticeship.

If a learner takes a break in learning or they withdraw from their apprenticeship you must be able to evidence learning up to the withdrawal date. If you can’t then you should change the withdrawal date to correspond with the last piece of learning evidence you have, even if that means drawing down less funding. With work-based learning particularly it’s very easy to get caught out because learners often withdraw because of dismissal at the end of a lengthy disciplinary process during which the learner is not engaged with learning. In that circumstance the end date on the ILR should be the last date of learning taking place and not the last date of employment.

Top tip: Review your learner list every month to check that they really are all in learning. This is where an eportfolio really comes into its own as you have an audit trail of learning taking place.

7. Employment status

Having stated at the start there were no surprises, I wasn’t expecting employment status to crop up in the findings. It’s simple – an apprenticeship is work-based learning; if the learner isn’t in employment, then they aren’t an apprentice and you can’t draw down funding for their learning.

Top tip: Don’t get caught out by signing up learners before their contract start date and using that as their enrolment date and the ILR learning start date (see also 2 above). It may only be a difference of a few days but they aren’t employed according to the funding rules.

8. Payment of employer contributions and small employer waiver

For delivery to non-Levy employers you need to evidence that you have invoiced the 10% contribution. For any employers where you are charging above the maximum funding cap, you also need to show that you have invoiced them for this difference.

Top tip: Invest in a student management system with good functionality around financial records and invoicing. For employers with 49 or fewer employees, make sure that you have a signed declaration from them before you deliver any learning.

9. English and maths

All learners who complete their level 1 English or maths should be offered the opportunity to study at level 2.

Top tip: Build this into your level 1 completion process. Could you hand out a letter with the certificate? You don’t just need to do it – you need to be able to evidence that it’s being done which can be difficult if none of your learners go on to study at level 2. 

These are my top tips to help you build audit preparation into your everyday delivery – but as always, they aren’t a substitute for reading the full document.

Young Care Leavers are Missing Out on Apprenticeship Opportunities
December 9, 2019
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Young care leavers are missing out on apprenticeship opportunities as experts warned they are not receiving adequate support to transition into sustainable careers.

The Children’s Society and Catch 22 are calling for more changes to the apprenticeship levy to encourage this underserved group into work and help care leavers see apprenticeships as a financially viable opportunity.

The latest Department for Education figures show 39 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in employment, education or training, compared to 12 per cent of those in the same age group.

At the launch event yesterday the charities launched their new Bright Light programme.

The pilot, funded by The Clothworkers’ Foundation, will offer holistic and tailored support to London’s young care leavers to help them into apprenticeships, employment or further education.

Emma Allix, Catch22’s Programme Manager for Bright Light, says:

“It is vital that employers are understanding of the personal barriers these young people face, and that they offer effective long-term support. We all have a responsibility to be better corporate parents to care leavers, and with the additional help with transport costs, training, or just improving access, we can change these young peoples’ lives. By offering this support to these young people, employers will see loyal, motivated employees, likely to build a long-term career with their organisation.

“We want those who contribute to the apprenticeship levy to dedicate half their expenditure to those under 30. It is equally important that employers are supported and encouraged to take on apprentices too.”

Peter Grigg, External Affairs Director at The Children’s Society, adds: 

“We know through our work that care leavers face a myriad of issues when looking to their future. They have not had the parental guidance needed to navigate the world of job hunting nor will they have the financial backing to take up an apprenticeship that pays just £3.30 per hour. This low wage is simply not enough to live on. That is why we are calling on the first year apprenticeship rate to be brought in line with under 18 minimum wage. This additional money would remove some of the financial barriers and hopefully reduce the disproportionate number of care leavers not in education, employment or training.”

Bright Light will enable care leavers to achieve the best possible outcomes when transitioning from care into adulthood and employment. The course will provide one to one support for up to 18 months. Career coaches will help each individual build their confidence, to understand employer expectations, interview techniques, budgeting, the importance of time management and more.

Loveth Benson, a 22 year old from East London, is one of Bright Light’s first participants. Loveth is currently at university but was signposted to the course because of the struggles she has faced in trying to find a job.

Loveth explained:

“I was in care at 15 and lived with foster families, then at 17 I was living in semi-supported housing, which was quite regulated, so I wasn’t allowed to get a part-time job. When I could get a job, I didn’t know what to put on my CV, or how to even do one. I didn’t know how to write a personal statement or a cover letter, and there was no one to ask for help… no parents. This course is helping me to find out more about these things.”

Loveth hopes being part of Bright Light will help her achieve her dream career:

“I really want to be a social worker. Being in care, I met lots of young people with different issues and backgrounds, but all of them had no one they could ask for help… I want to be able to help them. I have only just started the course but we have already looked at jobs that can help me achieve my goals.”

AELP Fears re ESFA Subcontracting Ban
November 19, 2019
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The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has today recommended a new, more “robust approach” to subcontracting in an effort to avoid an outright ban.

Subcontracting in FE, the practice of one provider paying another to deliver the training, has never been far from scandal and controversy. It has already been banned for advanced learner loan funded courses.

AELP fear funding agency considering outright subcontracting ban

In what the AELP describes as a “last chance saloon” for subcontracting apprenticeships and adult education budget funding, its chief executive, Mark Dawe, claims “by incorporating the recommendations in our submission into its rules, the agency can avoid ministers demanding a ban”.

The ESFA announced plans last month for a radical overhaul of its subcontracting rules amid high-profile cases of fraud, while Ofsted has launched research into the practice.

In its submission, the AELP said the “vast majority” of subcontracting is “high quality” and officials must not take a “damagingly blunt” approach to address the behaviours of a small number of providers.

The requirement and expectations of main providers who subcontract out government funding should be “much more robust” in order to ensure integrity.

AELP has produced a checklist of the “minimum expectations” of the main provider, which they say is significantly above and beyond the current ESFA rules and “should be adopted across the sector”.

This includes: acceptable fees, charges and additional services, quality monitoring and quality assurance, MIS, audit and ILR services, and contracting management (read the full report here).

The association says there also needs to be clarity on the “different types of subcontracting and what is and what isn’t a subcontract to help alleviate confusion across the sector, including with employers”.

AELP has used its submission paper to again call again for fees and charges not to exceed 20 per cent of the funding – a recommendation that has been adopted by the Greater London Authority and other mayoral combined authorities with devolved adult education funding.

This maximum cap would “block the profiteering of a small number of providers who commoditise their privileged access to government funding and ensure value for money”.

AELP adds that there should be a clear policy on management fees and charges being only applicable to core funding and not additional funding “designed to support specific groups of learners or to support certain additional needs”.

ESFA should also procure funding from providers that is “continuously subcontracted out on a transitional basis”, the association’s submission said.

“Recent examples of subcontracting malpractice do not justify at all a call for an outright ban on subcontracting in the sector, but a much more robust approach on the part of the ESFA and Ofsted would make a huge difference in stopping further examples occurring,” Dawe (pictured) said.

“Over the last ten years, AELP feels that the ESFA has rather dragged its heels in making the required changes needed in its funding rules to put the issue to bed and we are probably now in the last chance saloon.”

He added: “Let’s have no more prevarication around this issue which has been damaging the sector’s reputation for far too long. Change the rules now.”

Eileen Milner, the chief executive of the ESFA, sent a sector-wide letter last month warning of rule changes to subcontracting and that she will take strong action against any provider that abuses the system.

She said there are currently 11 live investigations into subcontracting, with issues underpinning them ranging in seriousness from “complacency and mismanagement”, through to matters of “deliberate and systematic fraud”.

She revealed the government will review its current subcontracting rules later this year.

Ofsted’s research will mainly look at whether management fees, which have controversially grown to as much as 40 per cent on subcontract values, are having a detrimental impact on learners’ education.

There have been a number of high-profile subcontracting scandals in recent years. The most recent involved Brooklands College and resulted in the ESFA demanding a £20 million clawback.

Oxfordshire Advanced Skills Centre Officially Opened
November 6, 2019
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F1 engineering legend – and former UKAEA apprentice – Ross Brawn came to Culham Science Centre to open the new training academy.

The new Oxfordshire Advanced Skills (OAS) apprentice training centre has opened its doors at Culham.

OAS Director David Martin, engineering apprentices Rebecca Marsh and Ella Quigley, and F1 managing director Ross Brawn

OAS – which has the capacity to teach up to 350 young people a year – aims to increase the number of technicians and engineers for local employers. This is in part to plug the high skills gap in the county, which is one of the UK’s leading areas for science and innovation. Already almost 20 hi-tech employers are benefitting from having technicians trained at the facility.

OAS is a partnership between the UK Atomic Energy Authority and the Science and Technologies Facilities Council. It opened in an existing building on the Culham site in 2016 but the purpose-built training complex will enable it to expand its programmes using state-of-the-art equipment.

Guest of honour at the opening event was Ross Brawn – who enjoyed a successful career in motorsport including at Benetton and Ferrari and is now Formula 1’s managing director.

He said: “I am truly delighted to be present at the opening of Oxfordshire Advanced Skills, and the place where it all began for me as a young apprentice at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

“My time here provided me with the skills and experience I needed to go out into the wider engineering world, and it laid the foundation for the career path I have pursued.

“Apprentices are our next generation of designers, engineers and global problem solvers, and the importance of advanced skills training in the modern world – alongside facilities like the OAS – has never been so important.”

The new OAS building has industry-standard equipment covering a wide range of engineering and technology disciplines.

David Martin, OAS Director, and another former UKAEA apprentice, said: “The vision was an employer-led skills hub that would provide high quality training contextualised by being delivered in the workplace, but OAS is so much more than that. We have created something very special here that has the potential to impact careers and business performance for decades to come.”

Training at the centre is provided by the MTC Apprenticeships, based on the model they have successfully developed at their Coventry engineering skills academy.

Paul Rowlett, MTC Managing Director, said: “We are delighted to be working with UKAEA and STFC to deliver the Oxfordshire Advanced Skills training programme. There is a clear synergy and shared vision across our organisations.”

The next phase of OAS is already being planned. As well as extending the facility at Culham to cover robotics and power engineering training, OAS will add a skills centre at Harwell Campus for apprentices in the space sector as part of the rapidly growing Space Cluster there.

Steps to Making Apprenticeships Work in a Small Business
October 29, 2019
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Many small businesses think they don’t have time or resources to support an apprentice, but in fact, taking one on can help grow your business, if it’s done in the right way. 

The following article is by Anthony Impey.

Anthony Impey

As a small business owner, I know only too well that there is never enough time.

The day-to-day necessities of running a business consume every waking hour, leaving little or no room to work on those projects that you would love to do but never quite find the time. Small businesses often give this reason for not hiring an apprentice.

Research by the Federation of Small Businesses earlier this year confirms that management time is one of the most significant challenges that small businesses have with engaging with apprenticeships, with nearly one in three businesses reporting this as an issue. Another survey three years ago painted a very similar picture.

Setting out what’s expected of the apprentice, and the need to balance earning with learning, is crucial to achieving a return on investment as soon as possible.

There are many small businesses that do champion apprenticeships, however, and report positive results for their organisations.  

This raises the question: are apprenticeships a big burden on small businesses or is this a misguided perception?

In my experience, those small businesses that get great results from hiring apprentices do so by following a series of practical steps that are not wildly different from the systems and processes used for their other employees.

While there is a degree of adaptation to support apprentices, this extra effort is offset by the return on investment that begins, for some organisations, as quickly as three months after the apprentice starts.

Step #1: identify the business case for hiring an apprentice

It’s important that there is a solid business need driving the use of an apprenticeship, whether it’s to build the skills needed instead of hiring expensive fully-trained individuals, to develop your competitive advantage through building your own talent or to offer career progression for your existing team.

Step #2: adapt the recruitment process

For apprentices that are starting their first job, a traditional interview may not be the best approach to identify the most suitable candidates.

Simulated work, team exercises and even saying an interview is a mock interview, often produces better results.  

Step #3: kick-start with a tailored induction

While some small businesses may only have a very simple induction process for new team members, it’s essential to have one specifically for an apprentice.

Setting out what’s expected of the apprentice, and the need to balance earning with learning, is crucial to achieving a return on investment as soon as possible.

Step #4: set objectives

As with any member of a team, objectives that stretch and develop an apprentice will underpin their performance.

Linking objectives to their studies will further accelerate the rate that they start adding value.

Step #5: commit to the process of learning

As with many things, you get out what you put into an apprenticeship.

For employers, this means providing apprentices with the time and opportunity they need to study, whether that’s learning from others in the workplace or studying with fellow apprentices in a classroom.

With technology enabling many apprentices to study whenever and wherever, learning can be fitted to suit the unpredictable nature of many jobs.

At the same time, allowing apprentices to put what they have learnt into practice will help reinforce their knowledge and accelerate their positive impact.

Step #6: surround your apprentice with great people

If the size of your team will allow, there are three key roles that will help an apprentice thrive in your workplace:

  • A line manager who understands what the apprentice is studying and champions their development.
  • Someone who can mentor the apprentice’s professional development.
  • A peer who can provide practical support and advice to the apprentice.

The benefit of this is felt not just by the apprentice – those that support apprentices often say how much it has driven their own professional development.

Step #7: work with your training provider

Large employers with several apprentices are able influence the type of training they receive from a training provider.

While smaller organisations lack the scale to do this, they can still build a close relationship with their training provider with regular two-way communication about the progress of their apprentice and the content of the training.  

This will ensure that there is always a close connection between what is learnt off-the-job and on-the-job.

Step #8: get feedback

Regular feedback from your apprentice will enable you to refine and adapt their development and improve the rate at which they build new skills.  

Encouraging their involvement in peer and membership networks, such as the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network, will also empower them to believe their voice matters.

Step #9: foster wellbeing

We know only too well the stresses that can build-up in the workplace. For apprentices, this can be magnified by having to juggle work commitments with learning responsibilities, no matter where they are in their careers.

The transition from school, college or university to an apprenticeship can be very challenging while existing team members who are doing an apprenticeship to upskill may struggle to start learning if they’ve been away from education for some time.  

Being sensitive to these issues and making support easily available will make a huge difference.

The #Apprenticeship Service Launches New Webinar Programme for Autumn 2019
October 28, 2019
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Sign up to our new apprenticeship service webinar programme – Helen Gorner, ESFA’s Head of Service Engagement, talks about the programme and how you can get involved:

Our team supports the delivery of the apprenticeship service by engaging with our service users through a variety of channels, one of these being webinars. We work across the ESFA and with other government departments and stakeholders to help service users understand more about the service and any new developments taking place.

Webinars are aimed at employers, training providers, end-point assessment organisations, membership/representative organisations and any organisations or individuals with an interest in the apprenticeship service.

Our new autumn webinar programme for October to December includes topics on service development updates, apprenticeship eligibility, end-point assessment guidance for employers and training providers, recording end-point assessment activity in the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) and a guide to the Apprenticeship assessment service.

All our webinars are led by subject matter experts and attendees have an opportunity to ask questions during the live Q&A and take part in interactive polls.

We first launched the webinar programme in November 2018, and it’s been very successful, with more than 30 webinars being delivered to over 2000 attendees. All our webinar recordings are hosted on the apprentice service playlist on esfagovuk.

We’ve developed and delivered a series of support videos based on user needs for any significant new releases.

We’re now using a new platform, GoToWebinar, to deliver our webinars, providing an improved, more intuitive experience for attendees. It has additional features such as extra capacity, allowing more people to sign up whereas previously our webinars tended to get fully booked up.

Our webinars have been well received and we’ve had very positive feedback from attendees. Satisfaction rates are high with the vast majority rating the webinars either good or excellent.

Feedback we’ve had includes: “[it was a] really useful update on what training providers and employers need to do”, “clear information, accurate visuals and good knowledge”, and “just the right amount of information”.

One of our subject matter experts, Hayley Walker, senior manager in the Apprenticeship Funding Policy team, recently presented a webinar on user-centred funding rules, she says:

“Users of the funding rules had been asking for a more interactive roll-out session for a while. We got to engage with a huge amount of people in a short period of time, give background and context that we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to give, and quickly test understanding.

Rugby World Cup-winning Legend @JonnyWilkinson Backs #apprenticeship to Train Future England Stars
October 23, 2019
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England legend Jonny Wilkinson has thrown his support behind a new apprenticeship.

The nation’s record points scorer, who won the 2003 World Cup against Australia with a famous drop goal, is now looking to the future for his sport.

As of 18th October talented rugby union players will be able to hone their skills to compete at the highest level through a Sporting Excellence Professional apprenticeship.

Speaking the day before England take on Australia in the quarter final of the current World Cup in Australia, the former fly-half tackled the issue of how promising youngsters can earn a living as they are trained to become stars of the future. He said:

“I’d always encourage young people to follow their passions as far as they possibly can. If that means taking part in sporting activities, then this is fantastic. Apprenticeships can provide the opportunity for any young person to get their foot in the door with professional sport. I have been involved in rugby squads where I have enjoyed working alongside apprentices and watched them play key roles in the success of the team and go on to forge exciting careers in the game.”

Rugby league, cricket and football are also part of the Sporting Excellence Professional apprenticeship.

In addition to Rugby Union clubs, Rugby League and cricket clubs are also as of today now able to use the apprenticeship, which had previously only been open to football clubs as of May this year.

The Rugby Football Union and Rugby Football League worked together with football’s Premier League and English Football League, and the England and Wales Cricket Board to develop this apprenticeship.

The Institute’s Chief Executive, Sir Gerry Berragan, welcomed the move for new government-supported apprenticeships – which have expanded massively across different professions in recent years (there are now more than 500 available in total) – to move into the field of professional sport.

He said:

“This announcement will hopefully give those with a passion for sport another chance to potentially achieve their dream. It is encouraging that so many employers have been involved with the development of this standard and I’m sure we will see the benefits in the future.”

The Sporting Excellence Professional apprenticeship standard sets out the key knowledge, skills and behaviours that apprentices will have to master before completing. The key duties expected of a Sporting Excellence Professional are that they should:

  • effectively and successfully represent their employer on the field of play at a local, regional, national or international level;
  • undertake a daily training routine, supported by a multi-disciplinary team, to ensure they retain and develop the technical, tactical, physical and psychological skills necessary for performing at the professional level;
  • practice a lifestyle conducive to maintaining a high level of performance;
  • act as an ambassador for their employer, sport and governing body in relation to younger players, fans and the local community – including their approach to diversity, equality and inclusion; and
  • actively plan for life after their sporting career and to supplement the next phase of playing contract.

New Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund Delivered By In-Comm Training
October 18, 2019
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In-Comm Training has been named as one of the training providers for a new skills fund launched by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

The Aldridge-based firm, which operates three technical academies in the Black Country and Shropshire, will be galvanising SMEs and larger firms to make the most of unspent Levy money currently available in the region.

The aim is to encourage employers to take on more young people in advanced manufacturing, digital skills and STEM-related apprenticeships as the area looks to cement its position as a global leader in engineering.

In-Comm Training’s employer-led approach to skills was one of the main reasons it has been chosen, with its team of expert advisers and trainers now responsible for supporting potential users of the fund to meet the criteria and recruit the right young people.

Bekki Phillips, Managing Director at In-Comm Training, commented: “Any new programme that encourages greater adoption of vocational learning is welcomed, especially one that specifically targets STEM courses.

“We have to raise the region’s productivity and using unspent Levy money to offer apprenticeships to 16-18 year-olds is a great, long-term way of ensuring we are growing our workforces of the future.”

She continued: “More than 146 standards are available, covering science, technology, engineering, manufacturing, construction and digital – all the skills we are going to need if we are going to exploit the UK’s strengths.

“The new fund will essentially remove the 5% fee that SMEs normally have to pay to take on an apprentice, making it easier to invest in young people.”

The West Midlands Combined Authority covers a population of 4.2 million across Greater Birmingham and Solihull, the Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire and the Marches LEPs.

In-Comm Training’s proven track record in delivering apprenticeships, combined with a £7m investment in its three academies in Aldridge, Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury, has given it the perfect platform to be a crucial partner to the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund.

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.