Festival of Skills: Start assessing as apprentices begin, providers told

Providers need to assess new apprentices’ skills as soon as they begin training in order to establish a baseline for measuring progress, the education watchdog has said.

Chris Jones [pictured above], Ofsted’s specialist adviser for apprenticeships, explained that the lack of qualifications within new apprenticeship standards has led to an “unintended consequence”: trainers will miss out on information vital for tracking apprentices’ development.

Speaking at FE Week’s Festival of Skills on June 22, Mr Jones said: “If an apprentice is not doing a whole set of units as they go through an apprenticeship then all those measures that we have in frameworks disappear.

“In a progress review with an apprentice, we can’t say ‘make sure next time I come you’ve finished unit 35’ – it isn’t going to work anymore.”

In a couple of years, he suggested, there might not be any be reliable national data to work with for apprenticeship standards.

The percentage of apprenticeships standards without qualifications is expected to rise.

In March, FE Week reported that more than a third of the apprenticeship standards the government had deemed ready for delivery involved no funded qualifications other than a final assessment.

While the standards had end-point assessments in place, they do not provide the apprentices with the chance to accumulate qualifications as they move through their training – as was the case with the previous apprenticeship frameworks, he said.

In light of this, he advised providers in the audience to properly assess students’ skills from the very beginning, so they would have a baseline against which to measure their progress.

Mr Jones added that this needed to go beyond just measuring English and maths, to give a clear indication of how capable the apprentice was in a range of areas relevant to the occupation before they began their course.

“It has to be much more about those starting points – it is vital that providers assess the knowledge and skills that apprentices bring with them,” he argued.

“Too often, currently, the only assessments that are recorded for an apprentice as they start their apprenticeship are their English and maths skills.

“Without qualifications to show a measurement of achievement in skills, what else are we going to use to measure that?”

Establishing a definite baseline would mean “then we all together can make a judgement about how far they’ve progressed from their starting points”.

Mr Jones also said that, for Ofsted inspectors, the importance of learners’ progress was “weighted equally” with actually achieving qualifications.

He spoke twice at the first day of FE Week’s Festival of Skills, part of the Telegraph Festival of Education held in the beautiful setting of Wellington College, founded in 1859 in Crowthorne, Berkshire.

The event was attended by over 3,000 delegates on Thursday June 22 and Friday June 23.

Day one of the festival was introduced by the actor and comedian Hugh Dennis and also included a lively City and Guilds panel quiz debate, chaired by managing director Kirstie Donnelly, who was incidentally celebrating her 50th birthday at the event.

Other sessions were led by Ben Blackledge, the director of education and skills competitions for WorldSkills UK, who spoke on ‘Going for Gold in Apprenticeships’, and FE Week’s very own Nick Linford, who gave his best tips on finding efficiencies in 16-to-19 study programme funding.

Throughout the busy day, delegates were treated to live music, delicious food, including ice cream to match the stunning weather, and a wide range of engaging stands where they were able to meet the festival’s exhibitors.

FE Week would like to thank everyone who attended or who took part and helped to make the occasion such a success.

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  1. I know that this article may not reflect everything said, but the direct quotes are worrying if Ofsted is purporting to be an expert voice to providers about apprenticeships. Setting an apprentice a target of finishing a unit would always be seen as poor practice, as it is not agreeing with the apprentice exactly and clearly what they need to do to achieve specific skills and knowledge, with support from their employer (I hate the term ‘SMART’ but many readers will know what I mean). Apprenticeships which are delivered correctly have always supposed to have had a thorough individual learning plan developed at the beginning between the ‘provider’, apprentice and the employer, setting out the current qualifications, English and maths skills and vocational skills of the apprentice, so that the required skills and knowledge for the apprenticeship can be mapped out as to how they will be delivered and checked along the way. Just because there isn’t an associated qualification does not mean there should be any difficulty in knowing what skills and knowledge will be required of the apprentice and required by individual employers. However, to do a thorough and professional job, those inspecting apprenticeships will need to be expert in work-based learning, something from the makeup of recent inspection teams that Ofsted seem to have lost sight of.
    To me the worrying thing is the lack of an expert body to quality assure what standards have been developed, as to what level they are really at. Things have been rushed in order to get standards in place and there is likely to be significant variation in what apprentices need to do to gain a level 2 or a level 5 in different occupational areas. To be a valid alternative and have parity to A levels or HE the apprenticeship standards need some form of validation that tests this out. End Point Assessment has also been rushed, uncontrolled and will vary in costs and quality. It is not supposed to be a new cash cow for a variety of organisations. Personally I see that the Institute of Apprenticeships could be the body to control standards quality and assessment and possibly take on the role of inspection as well.