June 2018

The know zone

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  • Setting the standard
    Kevin Gilmartin takes a look at the new apprenticeship standards and the newly formed body responsible for their development. More
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Kevin Gilmartin takes a look at the new apprenticeship standards and the newly formed body responsible for their development.

Setting the standard

Schools are increasingly in the spotlight over the progression advice they give to their pupils. Apprenticeships are one of the key options where alternatives to traditional academic options are needed.

Why the changes to apprenticeships?

A seminal review of apprenticeships was carried out in 2012 by the entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den celebrity, Doug Richard. His report, The Richard Review of Apprenticeships (https://tinyurl.com/bfgtzco), called on the government to improve the quality of apprenticeships, make them more focused on the needs of employers, use recognised industry standards as the basis of every apprenticeship and put the purchasing power for investing in apprenticeship training with the employer. The whole thrust of the review was that apprenticeships should focus less on qualifications and more on the standards employers want. In essence, can the apprentice do the job? And can they do it to the right standard?

So, the thousands of existing apprenticeship frameworks needed to be replaced by apprenticeship standards. A body was needed to facilitate this huge process and the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) was duly born in 2017 (www.instituteforapprenticeships.org).

What are the key features of an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a job with training that enables someone to develop and demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to perform effectively in that particular occupation. Other required features of an apprenticeship must include:

  • being an employee of the company with a contract of employment
  • being paid at least the minimum wage
  • an apprenticeship agreement that identifies the occupation and confirms the standard
  • a minimum of 12 months’ duration
  • an 80:20 model, that is, 80% workplace and 20% structured off-the-job training
  • an end-point assessment (EPA) to demonstrate competence in that occupation

What does the IfA do?

The IfA aims to “empower employers to define and create high quality apprenticeships”. The employers lead on the development of apprenticeship standards and the IfA then approves, publishes and manages the reviews of those standards.

How is an apprenticeship designed?

Apprenticeship standards are designed by groups of employers, known as trailblazers, with support from a relationship manager employed by the IfA. The trailblazer group should have at least ten different employers and should reflect the range of companies that employ people in this occupation, including size, geographical spread and sector.

How will the new apprenticeships be assessed?

The IfA’s remit is to “ensure high quality apprenticeships so they are viewed and respected as highly as other education routes”. Credible assessment is therefore crucial. The IfA must make sure that all EPAs are quality assured, and can either provide this quality assurance itself, or through Ofqual, professional bodies or employer groups.

How much does an apprenticeship cost?

The employer levy policy means that a firm pays into a digital levy pot and then recoups it by ‘buying back’ apprenticeship training from one of 15 funding bands. These range from band one £1,500, to band nine £27,000. For comparison’s sake, a Level 3 spectacle maker apprenticeship is in funding band 6, which costs £4,000 – whereas a Level 3 marine engineer apprenticeship is in the top band 9, costing £27,000. However, employer behaviour has often resulted in prioritising higher band apprenticeships (where more of their levy payments can be recouped). This has resulted in a drop in the number of 16–17 year-old apprentices as they are often only eligible for lower band apprenticeships. A funding review is therefore highly likely.

What may the future hold?

To date, there have been close to 200 apprenticeship standards approved, with hundreds more in the middle of the approvals process. The IfA though has been criticised for its approvals process being too slow – cue its new mantra of getting “easier, better and faster”. Yet in addition to getting all the standards, assessment and funding right for apprenticeships, there is a huge further challenge looming on the horizon. T levels will come under its remit. The IfA is becoming the IfATE (Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education) and the pace of change in technical and vocational education shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist