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The apprenticeship levy: implications for inspection

Funding for apprenticeships is changing. An apprenticeship levy of 0.5% is being applied on wage bills, but is offset by a government allowance of £15,000. This means that only companies with a wage bill larger than £3 million pounds will actually pay. The levy must be spent on apprenticeship training on an approved apprenticeship framework or standard. It can’t be used for things such as internal training or apprentice salaries.

New model of apprenticeships emerging

Alongside the levy, the structure of apprenticeships is changing. Until now apprenticeship frameworks have developed apprentices’ knowledge and skills through vocational and general qualifications alongside on- and off-the-job training.

Now a new model of apprenticeship is emerging. This is much more occupationally specific and is directly linked to the needs of employers. In the future apprentices will have to demonstrate that they meet the occupational standards and behaviours expected for their chosen occupation. For many of these apprenticeships there may be no vocational qualifications. But apprentices will still need to acquire qualifications in English and mathematics, if they do not have them when they begin their apprenticeship.

What does this mean for inspection?

Regardless of the apprenticeship standard, inspectors will expect to see that apprentices work to the exacting standards set by employers and training providers.

Apprentices must show that they have developed substantial new knowledge, skills and behaviours to properly prepare them for their chosen career. Consequently, it is important for employers and training providers to develop plans for apprentices that have clear learning, skills and career paths. They also need to monitor and evaluate these plans frequently. This is essential to ensure that apprentices are given the chance to make the most of their opportunity, and for their employer to provide a really high-quality training programme.

Apprentices also require feedback on their performance so they can improve their skills and successfully complete their apprenticeship. Employers, providers and apprentices must plan and prepare for the end-point assessment. And apprentices need to know that they have the skills and attributes they require to pass this vital assessment.

Ofsted has just re-published its Further education and skills inspection handbook this April to make it clear that it will be inspecting apprenticeships funded through the apprenticeships levy, just as it inspects those funded by ESFA. The handbook slightly revises the wording of the apprenticeships evaluation criteria to ensure that it accommodates apprenticeships undertaken against standards as well as frameworks.

Ofsted is aware that training providers may be delivering apprenticeships training against existing frameworks at the same time as apprenticeships against new standards.

Numeracy and literacy essential skills

Inspectors will also want to see improvements in apprentices’ English and mathematics skills. All apprentices must to be able to show that they are developing the literacy and numeracy skills needed for their employment. For example, in aeronautical engineering, apprentices have to work within the tight tolerances for accuracy in measurement and calculations. Hairdressing apprentices need to understand the impact of time in the application of hair relaxant; plasterers have to calculate the relationship between the volume of ‘mix’ and their work rate, and business administrators need to ensure that their written communications are of the highest standard.

The levy also means that employers will be more accountable for the success of their apprenticeships. They will contract with training providers and will need to be very clear about how their apprentice meets the requirements of an apprenticeship. Put simply, employers must ensure that their apprentices get the training they need, including time off-the-job. Employers who cannot meet these requirements will need to reappraise their commitment to apprenticeships. An apprentice needs to take time during the working week to learn something new, to improve their skills and review their learning. Without those opportunities there is no apprenticeship.

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