Quality and Ofsted

Apprenticeships – Initial Assessments (May 2021)

In this article we consider the importance of initial assessments for apprentices, with the impact this essential early activity has on the planning and implementation of delivery.  Individuals starting apprenticeships bring with them a range of different experiences.  This experience, in terms of both educational and work, will have a direct bearing on the knowledge, skills and behaviours in existence when starting the apprenticeship.  Initial assessment has a direct impact on the quality of learning and is essential in ensuring funding requirements are met.  We will be exploring both aspects within this article.

The robustness of the initial assessment should form part of the eligibility assessment.  Will the individual learn sufficiently new skills, knowledge and behaviours that can justify the apprenticeship and the public funding associated with it?  Apprenticeships are designed to ensure apprentices develop full occupational competence at completion.  The initial assessment is essential in exploring and identifying those knowledge, skills and behaviours that are already at standard, and highlight those that need focused attention, as part of an individual learning plan.  

It is one thing to collate information through an initial assessment, but it requires the ability to analyse and account for the findings when creating the individual learning plan.  This may result in opportunities for a shortened programme, where there is extensive skills and knowledge apparent when coming onto the apprenticeship.  It may also allow for stretch & challenge for some apprentices, or focused intervention support for others.  Ultimately, it is all about making the provision individually focused.

The extent of learning need will have a direct bearing on the length of the apprenticeship and funding, with reasonable adjustments applied.  Initial assessment should feed into the calculation and adjustment to the length of the apprenticeship, which in turn influences the ‘Total Negotiated Price’.  This adaption of course length and cost will need to be available to the ESFA, including during audits.  It provides evidence that apprentices are being individualised to account for their needs, resulting in public funds being effectively used.  Without this approach and ability to evidence implementation of strong initial assessment, and the impact this has had on confirmed course length and negotiated price, the risks are high of non-compliance and funding clawback.

Initial assessment historically was based around (and often at times solely) focused on Recognised Prior Learning (RPL).  Examples being accredited learning such as GCSE’s or equivalent for English and maths requirements, and unit credits that mapped directly into mandated qualifications of an apprenticeship.  There is the expectation and need for it to be far more holistic, looking at knowledge, skills, and behaviours, digital literacy skills and vocational and industry diagnostics of English and maths.  Thus, ensuring apprentices have the skills both for the current occupation and to support further promotion and the social mobility that can bring.  By combining these assessment components together, a full analysis can impact on the learning plan going forward, individualising the learning experience, and promoting strong progression in learning in an effective way.

The expectation is now to challenge the apprentice to contextualise learning, with the ability to make new meaning of their knowledge, skills and behaviours, demonstrating this full occupational competence at end point assessment.  Therefore, there needs to a robust method in the identification of learning need and regular monitoring of learning progress.

An effective initial assessment creates a solid foundation for which a learning plan can be created, highlighting milestones along the way that ensures progress towards full occupational competence.  For standards, it also allows for behaviours to be more robustly measured, applying progression checks, and ensuring for those apprenticeships (with an end-point assessment), that they are suitably prepared to demonstrate their competence. 

This progress and distance of learning is one of the core expectations of the Education Inspection Framework.  It’s not all about the retention and achievement rates, although if learning is delivered well this should follow.  When Ofsted comes knocking, they want to see how the individual needs have been identified and responded to, with a clear tracking of personal and occupational progress.  

For example, alongside the specified duties and knowledge, skills & behaviours, is the apprentice demonstrating presentation skills to be able to confidently deliver to individuals or groups, internally and externally, embedding these abilities practically in their job role?  Is the employer effectively involved in working with the training provider to identify and develop the apprentices abilities?  In essence, is there a connection between the theory and learning from off-the-job (be it in the classroom, online or other), into the working world of the apprentice?

Initial assessment forms the foundation for collaboration.  Collaboration between the apprentice, their employer (including workplace mentor) and training provider.  This connective work can identify who is best placed to support in the learning, and create sequencing in the learning activity, whether it be in the classroom, online and the workplace, forming a cohesive learning experience.  By including an End Point Assessment Organisation into the provision early, it will also add value by identifying the assessment needs and ensuring these skills, such as presentation or oral questioning as examples, are represented and considered within the learning plan too.

By creating a solid starting point, with entry points of knowledge, skill and behaviours established, it offers the opportunity for robust tracking of progression in learning.  How far has a particular apprentice travelled in their learning since the start of the apprenticeship?  What is impacting well and less well on the apprentices’ progress?  By including regular reviews against the initial assessment, these observations can be measured, and adaptions made to the learning provision, securing learning that is at pace and focused on the readiness for end point assessment.

Initial assessment when applied well ensures: Effectiveness of apprenticeship funds; collaborative delivery models between training providers & employers and suitability of curriculum design, all of which leads to the apprentices readiness for end point assessment in timely manner.

Tom Cheek

Tom is the Apprenticeship Lead at the Science Council, promoting the profile and prestige of apprenticeships across the Sciences.  Tom has 20 years’ experience working in the apprenticeship sector in roles including: Delivery; Quality; EdTech and Curriculum Management.

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