Gateway is a ‘no man’s land’ that leaves apprentices vulnerable

Caught between completion and assessment, too many apprentices are left to an inadequate support system

Caught between completion and assessment, too many apprentices are left to an inadequate support system

5 Dec 2023, 5:00

Completing an apprenticeship is a significant achievement, marking the end of formal training and the beginning of a new journey – recognition, promotion or new career.  However, what follows this milestone is a phase that has been relatively under-explored and is often overlooked: the waiting period before the end-point assessment (EPA). This phase, which we might aptly call a ‘no man’s land’, poses challenges for both apprentices and training providers, revealing a gap in the system that needs attention and reform.

Apprentices who have successfully completed their training can find themselves in limbo during the waiting period for their EPA, formally known as Gateway. This period can vary in length; it could be a matter of weeks or, in some cases, significantly longer.

The uncertainty of this phase can have an impact, and for some it is a disheartening experience, especially for those who feel unprepared or unsupported. This critical phase can lead to various outcomes, such as failing an assessment and needing a retake, losing faith in the apprenticeship process or even losing confidence to the point where they no longer wish to be assessed and leave the programme.

According to the ESFA funding rules, apprentices remain the responsibility of the training provider during gateway. This is even though the training is complete. However, no additional funding is allocated to provide support during this time. This places training providers in a challenging situation. They are responsible for apprentices’ progress, but they often lack the necessary resources to offer support beyond the formal training period.

Increased safeguarding risk

There are other considerations during the ‘no man’s land’ period, not least safeguarding. As a crucial aspect of the training programme designed to protect learners from harm and ensure their wellbeing, safeguarding can’t just stop in gateway. During the waiting period for EPA, apprentices are not exempt from potential safeguarding risks.

In fact, the vulnerability they may face during this phase can be significant. While waiting for EPA, apprentices might experience feelings of isolation. This isolation can expose them to risks such as mental health challenges including anxiety and depression. For those who fail and need to retake, the risk of learners leaving prior to completion is much higher.

It is important for providers to ensure that the same safeguards, identification, reporting and resolving of safeguarding issues are in place for those in gateway as those on programme. For example, are their apprentices less likely to report safeguarding concerns during the waiting period, fearing that it could negatively affect their EPA or job prospects?

Providers should perhaps establish a system of regular check-ins with apprentices during the waiting period similar to the support provided during the active training programme. They can offer access to support services such as financial counselling to address specific vulnerabilities.

Impact on employers

Employers can also be affected. For example, in the event of a failed EPA some employers may be reluctant to pay for a retake, especially if they feel that the training provider did not adequately prepare the apprentice. This reluctance can strain the relationship between employers and apprentices, creating a less-than-ideal environment for skills development and progression.

Ofsted inspects ‘the whole of the apprenticeship training’ but not the EPA. The role of the inspectorate is a grey area during gateway and while we don’t want to see more burdens placed on providers, it is reasonable to ask whether some form of evaluation of the apprentice’s experience should take place.

With a national membership of providers of all types, the Fellowship of Inspection Nominees can see a concerning picture emerging over the level of support for apprentices during gateway. Therefore we call on the DfE and other stakeholders to take a closer look at this no man’s land issue now to build in more accountability, funding and regulation.

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