At this year’s AELP autumn conference, ESFA director for apprenticeships and bootcamps, Kate Ridley-Moy said that while she recognised challenges with the qualification achievement rate (QAR), it had to stay. It is the standard measure of success rates across all qualifications, she argued, adding that her team were looking at other measures to support understanding of the QAR. Let’s unpack this, and hopefully give Kate and her team some useful insights.
A level playing field?
The QAR for apprenticeships measures the number of people who fully complete an apprenticeship as a percentage of all leavers, with some added complications for cohort years. This is not the same methodology as for qualifications like A levels, where the calculation is the number of passes as a percentage of all people who took the exam. If we were to measure apprenticeships on the same basis as A levels, we would be celebrating very high success rates (97 per cent, in fact, according to Gillian Keegan).
Further, many of the reasons people don’t fully complete apprenticeships are entirely beyond a provider’s influence. Redundancy, illness and lack of time to complete the 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement are all regularly given as reasons for leaving, as well as more positive ones like promotion or role changes.
At HIT we track leave reasons very carefully to focus our efforts on reducing the number of leavers. For example, detailed tracking of one of our programmes revealed that some people were losing interest early. Our curriculum team surveyed the apprentices, made slight changes to the sequencing of delivery, and the number of leavers dropped.
Next, QAR is averaged across all of the programmes a training provider delivers. This is not very meaningful to employers or prospective apprentices.
The success rates for our level 4 brewer programme are among our highest, at over 80 per cent. Most who take that apprenticeship are under thirty, have their sights set on a defined career and a good level of education, including English and maths.
Compare this with the fifty-year-old adult care worker who desperately wants to improve their skills but struggled at school, and as well as caring professionally has both younger and older generations of their family to care for.
Many such learners drop out mid-way because the pressures on them are just too much, but our tracking shows that they always (and I mean always) leave having developed useful knowledge and skills for their role.
Finally, people rightly should be able to continue studying English and maths in their adult lives, but why are apprenticeships the only programme of learning where a pass in these subjects is a condition of success?
An apprenticeship is about occupational competency proven over time. If the apprentice can become competent without having passed functional English and maths, then it is that competency that matters.
So to improve QAR, let’s have two versions alongside each other: one with all leavers, and another with just those that are within the influence of the training provider.
We should be held accountable for making adjustments if learners lose interest. It’s our responsibility to have effective initial assessments and honest conversations if a learner is unlikely to complete an element of the programme. And it’s simply unacceptable not to get close enough to learners to understand the risk factors that might cause them to leave.
But holding providers accountable for learners being made redundant or promoted does the whole sector a disservice. Discounting these leavers, HIT’s QAR success rate for 2022/23 would be 70 per cent, above the government 67 per cent target.
If QAR truly aims to improve the skills system for everyone, the only way is to develop a better understanding of the reasons people don’t finish their apprenticeships. The ESFA should therefore work with providers and employers to improve its inadequate list of leave reasons.
I’m sure our own extended list is similar to that used by other providers, but until the choices available on the ILR reflect this then the rather un-useful ‘other’ category will be what the ESFA see on our returns.
And that helps no one improve.