Remote delivery of apprenticeship assessment will become a permanent option that providers can use beyond Covid-19, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has announced.

The institute said today that the apprenticeship flexibilities and temporary discretions introduced to support the sector through the pandemic will run until the end of 2021, but a number will then cease.

Seven of the ten (see full list below) flexibilities which apply to all apprenticeships will however be retained as permanent adjustments, where it is “clear they represent an improvement on the arrangements which were in place before Covid-19”.

They include allowing remote delivery of assessment; simulated environments being used instead of observation in workplaces; and exams being online instead of on paper.

Temporary discretions, which only apply to specific apprenticeships, will all begin their notice period from today and be switched off on 31 December 2021.

However, it will be possible for providers to ask for these to be retained “where there remain exceptional challenges to apprentices being able to complete their end point assessments”. Interested parties will have until October 1 to do so. The institute said it will be prepared to take a sectorial approach if this is “justified”.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers research director Paul Warner welcomed the move to remote assessment.

He said: “The pandemic has driven the need to embrace technology in apprenticeship delivery and assessment and this really positive announcement is moving away from temporary flexibilities at a standard level to implement permanent delivery flexibilities at a holistic level.

“Remote assessment will help ensure proper scalability that has yet to be properly tested as we emerge from the lockdown. The sector could be delivering 300-400,000 of them a year and doing them face to face would be a significant challenge.”

An IfATE spokesperson said: “Over the last year and a half, flexibilities have made a huge difference to tens of thousands of people, helping apprentices to move forward despite the pandemic. 

“We want to take what we have learnt and keep on improving, but also give stability – which is why nothing is changing until 2022.”


7 flexibilities to be retained

The seven apprenticeship flexibilities to be made permanent are:

  • remote delivery of assessment (including invigilation);
  • assessment gateway sign off being done remotely;
  • pauses being allowed between elements of end point assessments;
  • assessment element delivery being in any order;
  • simulated environments being used instead of observation in workplaces;
  • assessments taking place outside of usual venues;
  • assessment exams being online instead of on paper.

The institute said it will be “necessary to make some minor adjustments to make sure that quality can always continue to be protected once the impact of Covid-19 is significantly diminished”. It plans to publish full guidance to explain exactly how the seven flexibilities above should be applied from 2022 “later this summer”.

Three types of flexibilities will be discontinued from 1 January 2022. However, the institute said that this deadline may be extended for specific sectors still experiencing disruption due to Covid-19.

The three are:

  • The extension to the length of the end assessment period – because it “disadvantages apprentices to have a long wait for their end point assessment after passing through gateway”.
  • Changes to who sits on assessment panels – during the Covid-19 period it wasn’t always possible to have an employer sit on a panel as many were furloughed or busy elsewhere. As the economy returns to normal, the original assessment plan can now be delivered, “helping to protect quality for apprentices, maintain validity and improve learning for future apprentices”.
  • Allowing other suitable evidence of achievement to be used in place of mandated qualifications – this is no longer needed because “the mandated qualifications should become available as restrictions are relaxed”.


Providers can plea for discretions to be kept

More than 150 apprenticeship standards have had individual temporary flexibilities added to them throughout the pandemic.

These will be switched off from 31 December 2021 but it will be possible to ask for the discretions to be retained beyond this period where there “remain exceptional challenges to apprentices being able to complete their end point assessments”.

Providers have been advised to speak to their end point assessment organisation or the external quality assurance provider in the first instance to discuss. EQAPs can then formally pass on the request to the institute, but must do so by October 1 to “guarantee a resolution before the cut-off date”.  

The institute plans to announce those discretions that will be retained no later than 14 December 2021.

Today’s announcement added that the Department for Education has agreed to continue the flexibility waiving the requirement for level 2 apprentices to take level 2 functional skills tests. The institute said this was communicated to the sector via an update on 31 June and is in the new 2021/22 funding rules.

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