Paperwork threatens to take over the job I love

18 Oct 2021, 6:00

If all the documentation doesn’t benefit the apprentice, why is it necessary? asks Tim McHanwell

I’m going to start with the most important point: I really, really enjoy my job. I enjoy working with the apprentices, supporting them and helping them to progress.

The most enjoyable part of the experience is spending time with apprentices from a variety of backgrounds and working with them to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding. 

This could be younger apprentices who have moved away from classroom-based education and have not always thrived in education. It’s very valuable working with them because you’re getting to re-engage them.

We help to smooth that transition into an apprenticeship with employers like the NHS where there are good opportunities for career progression.

Then there are those apprentices who may have been out of education for ten to 15 years. They may be motivated, but sometimes lacking in self belief. Many of these apprentices will get to a point where they say “I can’t do this”, and it’s a challenge to get them through.

When they do, it’s really rewarding. Many of them progress on to higher level qualifications that allow them to get promoted. 

Just this week, I had an older learner who was very anxious about her end-point assessment. So I drove out to her, sat with her for an hour and a half, and showed her she was ready.

There’s a huge value in just being around someone. That takes time.

But in the ten years since I’ve been a trainer and assessor, paperwork has become a bigger part of the job.

This isn’t specific to my college, because it’s a system-wide issue. Myself and colleagues are spending more and more time writing about what we’re going to do, instead of doing it.

It’s been a “mission creep” scenario. Every year we have a little bit more to record. Every year new funding rules come out, and new things have to be documented.

Every year we have a little bit more to record

Of course, I’m not saying documentation is bad. Actually, it can be very important. Possibly ten years ago we weren’t documenting things we should have.

It’s important, for instance, that apprentices can see on paper what they will be doing in the next session. It’s helpful for them to see what I’ve written in the “actions” section of their portfolio, so they can follow this up.

But there are things we are now required to document for auditing purposes that don’t have clear value for the apprentice. I feel the amount that needs to be documented has tipped too far the other way.

Spending time filling out forms can reduce the time we spend on the most enjoyable and important part of the job ̶ working with the learner.

Sometimes you feel you have to hurry when working with a learner, just to do the paperwork. You think, “If I don’t get it logged now, I won’t have time to come back to it”. 

This can cause problems, as the paperwork can start building up. I’m a Unison union representative as well, and I know people who feel they have to work extra hours just to get it all done.

An assessor needs time to plan and come up with creative solutions, and that time just disappears. This can leave staff feeling they’re not supporting apprentices as well as they would like.

So how can we solve this?

First, we need to look again at what we are documenting and why. I feel we should place the emphasis on documenting the things that make a difference to the learner.

Trust in the professionalism of staff and their commitment to do the best for their apprentices. Who am I writing this for if it doesn’t help the learner?

Second, it’s about funding. If the Education and Skills Funding Agency attached more money to each student, then each staff member wouldn’t have to take on so many apprentices.

This in turn would reduce paperwork and stress. 

 If those changes can be made, I can get on with the job I love.

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  1. Rob Smith

    I am absolutely in agreement with this article and the bureaucracy is now biting hard!

    I manage a team of people who are absolutely dedicated to the achievement of apprenticeships and am seeing these, already hard working team members, beginning to look at whether they can manage to remain in a role that sees their face in front of a screen and keyboard more than the young people they are charged with supporting!

  2. Lea-Ann

    I totally agree, in over 20 years of working with apprenticeship, I have seen the amount of documented evidence increase so much that time spend doing the important training with my learners has been depleted. Unfortunately there is no trust in training providers due to the years of less professional training providers abusing the system. I agree more funding in place per learner would reduce case loads and increase the quality of delivery. This can only improve the standards within the sector.

  3. Totally Agree. The amount of evidence we collect is now all consuming. This also applies to employers, especially the micro businesses (1-2 staff) we work with. Many of our employers are simply walking away from Apprenticeships due to the burden on them for both paperwork and dealing with the Apprenticeship Service. I can honestly say that not one of the 70+ SMEs (micro) I work with want to spend time registering on the Apprenticeship Service and then completing all the information required for the grants. The system, sadly, is certainly no longer focussed on the learner’s progression – but rather the amount of eveidence and paperwork we have to prove it. Staff that have worked in the industry all their lives are leaving due to the unrealistic workloads.