Coronavirus: ‘Break in learning’ rule suspended for affected apprentices

The government will allow apprentices to have a “break in learning” if they cannot be assessed due to the coronavirus.

Training providers usually incur a financial penalty under normal funding rules if they record a break in learning that is not driven by the learner, but this move “should protect funding” where the assessor is ill.

The Department for Education released the latest guidance, which applies to apprentices who have reached gateway and those who have experienced gaps in training to Covid-19 related illness, today.

It stated: “The normal breaks in learning process should be followed and therefore we only need notifying once a break in learning has exceeded four weeks.”

The latest advice also permits employer driven breaks if an apprentice’s employer has to follow government advice to take action that results in an apprenticeship having to be paused. 

The DfE said: “In these occasions a break in learning can be used where there will be a break of longer than four weeks.”

It stressed that all stakeholders need to “recognise that the health and wellbeing of individuals is a higher priority than performance measures” and advised adhering to the current escalation process of raising end-point assessment (EPA) issues through external quality assurance providers in the first instance.

In order to “maintain the integrity of high quality assessment of apprenticeships”, the situation will continue to be monitored and further advice and modifications relating to specific assessment methods will be issued if necessary.

The Institute for Apprentices and Technical Education is expected to publish further guidance in response to the coronavirus shortly.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said the measures will “help to alleviate the difficulties that the spread of the Coronavirus is already causing in respect of providers, EPAOs, apprentice employers and apprentices themselves” but called for more action to be taken urgently.

AELP chief executive Mark Dawe said: “We welcome the prompt change to the break in learning rule, but it’s vital for the DfE to recognise and respond to the fact that in asking individual training providers and EPAOs to request exceptional treatment by learner is unrealistic.  The system simply couldn’t cope with the volume and therefore we need a change to a rule which will apply to everyone.

“As well as breaks in learning, AELP will be asking the DfE to look at possible impact in relation to face-to face-delivery and assessment, time limits on EPA and rules around payments up to gateway and completion.  Measuring success in the future, which affects the funding and official registration of apprenticeship training providers, will need to allow for these circumstances.”

He added that the government should address apprenticeship contract payments to providers and the need for a coherent approach to all further education and skills providers to ensure they survive “what is likely to be a period of falling attendance and falling recruitment”.

There has been three reported deaths, and 280 cases of coronavirus in total in the UK to date.

See the guidance in full below:

In order to support the sector during any disruption which may be experienced due to Covid-19 these are the initial recommendations from the Department for Education:

  1. Apprentices who are ready for assessment – i.e. who reach gateway and cannot be assessed due to assessor illness or Covid-19 related measures, will be allowed to have a break in learning. This should protect funding and completion of apprenticeships and should be reflected in the July completion rules.  The normal breaks in learning process should be followed and therefore we only need notifying once a break in learning has exceeded 4 weeks.  A break in learning must occur before the learner is recorded as completed.  Apprentices can go on a break in learning between completing the learning activity (learning actual end date) and the assessment, but there would be no requirement to record in this in the ILR as it will not have an effect on funding.
  1. Apprentices who experience gaps in training due to Covid-19 related illness in the workplace or off the job can classify this period as a break in learning.  The normal breaks in learning process should be followed and therefore we only need notifying once a break in learning has exceeded 4 weeks.
  1. Usually breaks in learning are only permitted where they are learner driven, however we are aware that there may be occasion where an employer who is following government advice may take action that results in an apprenticeship have to be paused.  In these occasions a break in learning can be used where there will be a break of longer than 4 weeks. The normal breaks in learning process should be followed.
  1. In order to maintain the integrity of high quality assessment of apprenticeships we are going to monitor the situation and will issue further advice and modifications relating to specific assessment methods if necessary.
  1. We advise adhering to the current escalation process of raising EPA (end-point assessment) issues through EQAPs (external quality assurance providers) in the first instance.

There is a need for everyone (employer, provider, EPAO, Apprentice) to take a reasonable and balanced approach in these situations and to recognise that the health and wellbeing of individuals is a higher priority than performance measures. 

We know that good communications between each of these parties is important to the successful delivery of EPA anyway. So, in these circumstances that communication becomes even more important. 

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) will shortly be publishing guidance for this area in response to potential disruption from Covid-19.