Apprenticeship toolkit

This Higher and Degree Apprenticeship Toolkit shows how effective application of digital technologies can support the delivery of the new apprenticeship standards at levels 4, 5 and 6. It is aimed at universities and colleges, and organisations delivering end point assessment (EPA). If you are interested in apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 see our original Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Preparation

12 November 2017

Organisational planning

What you need to know

Making the most of the opportunities afforded by the new apprenticeship standards requires a strategic approach in all areas including:

  • Labour market assessment
  • Course design
  • Marketing
  • Day-to-day learning and teaching practice
  • Managing and sharing information
  • Supporting students
  • Ongoing customer relationship management​

For each of these aspects the approach is different to typical undergraduate and postgraduate study and needs to be coordinated to deliver an effective service to employers.

You will find we refer to you as an apprenticeship ‘provider’ in this guide. This, and much of the other terminology, may be unfamiliar but should help to get you in the mindset of a different type of provision.

Why it matters

Universities and colleges are telling us that adjusting existing offerings is insufficient to meet these changing requirements. You will have to rethink how you design and deliver a very different type of learning experience and engage with a very different set of customers and regulatory stakeholders.

What are the issues?

This diagram gives a high level overview of the student journey of an apprentice highlighting where it differs from a typical undergraduate life cycle.

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Voices of experience

‘We are trying to make apprenticeships literally just a different mode of studying. In the same way you have online, undergraduate, postgraduate, part-time and full-time; it is just another mode of delivery. We are trying to take all of the pain that is perceived around apprenticeships out.’ Kirsty Tallis, University of Derby

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Data and information

What you need to know

The regulatory context in which apprenticeships are delivered is very different to that of other higher education provision. In delivering apprenticeships you will be subject to all of the demands of your usual funding and regulatory bodies and will encounter a host of new ones.

You will also be working with a different set of external stakeholders - most notably employers and professional bodies but possibly also external training providers and endpoint assessment organisations. See our glossary and section on endpoint assessment for more on these topics.

Why it matters

The data and information requirements have much in common with those already in place in further education (FE). Those of you in the FE and skills sector are likely to find your core administrative systems are already geared up to meeting the requirements. Higher education providers may however find that your core records systems need considerable bespoke work simply to meet regulatory demands.

Many universities have been managing the data and information associated with apprenticeships in a relatively ad hoc way whilst student numbers were small but such manual workarounds and ‘feral’ systems managed within departments are unlikely to scale up to meet the needs and audit requirements of larger scale delivery.

What are the issues?

For each apprenticeship delivered you will need to:

  • Maintain an extensive evidence pack that will be audited by the ESFA
  • Complete the monthly individualised learner record (ILR) that will be cross referenced against information provided by the employer
  • Maintain records of financial transactions between yourselves and the employer

This diagram gives an indication of some of the systems complexity associated with apprenticeship delivery. It illustrates where higher education providers may encounter systems and data flows outside of those relating to your usual operations without purporting to be a comprehensive view of data and information flows.

There is no single sign-on for this mass of systems. Apprenticeship providers will need a separate log on for many of the government systems including:

  • Learning Aim Reference Service (LARS)
  • Learning Records Service (LRS)
  • Apprenticeship Service
  • Employer Reference Number

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This diagram has been adapted, with permission, from one produced for internal use at the University of Derby.

Voices of experience

‘We are very good at teaching and learning but the ESFA stuff is harder.’ Resham Gill, Birmingham City University

‘The ILR is our Achilles heel at the moment. We had to ask a local college for help to understand the error reports.’ Anonymous, Post 92 University

‘The biggest problems are the core administrative systems and getting to grips with the ESFA requirements for quality and finance. For apprenticeships the financing is dependent on proper reporting and that has thrown it up into very sharp relief.’ Anonymous, Post 92 University

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Infrastructure

What you need to know

In our section on data and information we show how the regulatory framework differs from that for the rest of higher education and highlight the fact that you will be working closely with a different range of external stakeholders, most notably employers.

This can have considerable implications in terms of the infrastructure needed to support the delivery of apprenticeships.

Why it matters

Most universities already have a complex set of systems supporting teaching, learning and administration. There is no single ‘one-stop’ solution you can plug in to this to meet apprenticeship requirements. You will need to understand those requirements thoroughly and find the solutions that best fit with your existing infrastructure.

Some of the issues are not new. Universities have long struggled to cope with ‘non-standard’ or more flexible types of learning. The workarounds devised to deal with the issues may have been manageable when numbers were small and the issues internal. However, with increasing numbers and a direct link to funding, they have the potential to become mission-critical.

Senior management teams considering delivering the new higher and degree apprenticeships will need to consider:

  • How to keep the administrative records needed for compliance and funding bearing in mind the demands on your student record system and finance system may be quite different to those for other types of higher education.
  • How to deliver effective learning and teaching bearing in mind that up to 80% of learning will happen in the workplace and that feedback and assessment and progress tracking and monitoring requires effective information sharing between tutors on campus and managers and mentors in the workplace as well as with the apprentice.
  • How to keep all the records of what learning has taken place that are needed for audit purposes.
  • How to ensure a seamless and user-friendly experience across the different systems in use for apprentices and those supporting them.

What are the issues?

Student administration

Student record systems designed for higher education have not generally been designed to hold the information that is required for the individualised learner record (ILR) or any of the other employment information required for ESFA audit purposes. You will need to look at what is available in terms of user defined fields that can store the required information. You will also need to think about how and when you capture the information.

Student processes

Your systems will be set up to optimise workflows according to your standard business processes. This means much of the data required for apprenticeships is not a standard part of data capture in processes such as application and enrolment. Conversely it also means that some of your ‘optimisation’ will result in apprentices being asked for/presented with information that is not relevant to their circumstances.

Course and module management

Many universities will have their VLE (and any associated course information databases) set up according to the structure of regular undergraduate degrees. This can impose rigidity in areas such as start and end dates of elements of the course; credit structures; learning outcomes and associated learning resources.

Student tracking

Although student engagement with activities and learning materials features increasingly as an application of learning analytics, most universities do not routinely track the hours students spend on their learning. The systems used to collect and reflect on evidence of learning, such as e-portfolios, may support reflective practice very well but be less geared up to detailed tracking.

Access

A combination of university regulations and employer firewalls can make for difficulties in creating a virtual environment where apprentices have 24x7 access to all of the learning materials they need and employers and workplace mentors can share information seamlessly with university tutors. ​ Both academic supervisors and workplace mentors need to be able to provide feedback and sign off work as being original and up to standard to evidence the full range of skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to meet the apprenticeship standard. Given the potential for apprentices to work with commercially sensitive workplace data, there must also be a high degree of security.

Voices of experience

‘Scalability is key - once you get beyond one or two programmes you really need efficient management right across the University.’ Kirsty Tallis, University of Derby.

‘Some work on secure sites and have difficulty accessing materials or contacting the University during their working day due to security issues. It takes a lot of time talking to employers to resolve such issues, and the students get frustrated.’ Survey response

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Working with employers

What you need to know

The whole ethos of apprenticeships, and the rationale behind the changes to the system, is that they are employer led. An apprenticeship is a job with a protected educational component and the main customer is the employer rather than the individual apprentice.

That notwithstanding, because the apprenticeship also involves a higher education qualification, you will also have a contractual relationship with the student. The three-way commitment statement between yourselves, the employer and the apprentice is vital in ensuring these relationships work well.

Why it matters

This is a very different situation to the usual relationship between a university and its students. The employer has a vital role to play in ensuring student success and good employers will want to be fully involved throughout the apprenticeship. Some of the things employers would like to stay informed about include:

  • Achievement data, results, coursework/exams
  • Attendance
  • Engagement
  • Other niche elements specific to that programme

Some of the things employers would like to feed in, based on what managers note on a day-to-day basis in the workplace, include:

  • Behavioural aspects
  • Pastoral aspects Employers will want apprenticeships closely tailored to their particular needs eg an apprenticeship that has run successfully using a day release model for a local employer may not suit another who has geographically dispersed staff.

What are the issues?

From the outset the process and the stakeholder relationships are different to other higher education provision . You will be marketing to employers not individual apprentices. You may have several meetings with an employer who later decides that apprenticeships aren’t for them. This is very different to the competitive selection for undergraduate places.

  • You will need a watertight contract with the employer and this may have to be bespoke.
  • You will need to clarify roles and responsibilities between tutors and support staff in your institution and managers and mentors in the workplace.
  • The employer will have a view (and make the ultimate decision) on any subcontracted delivery, eg with a local college or independent provider, as well as potentially on the digital tools you use for delivery.
  • The employer will have a view (and make the ultimate decision) on which organisation undertakes the endpoint assessment (EPA) for the apprenticeship.
  • The employer may be working with multiple apprenticeship providers and may expect you to conform to what they find to be good practice elsewhere.
  • The employer may have multiple apprentices in different parts of the same university and expect standardisation of approach even in different discipline areas.
  • You need to be aware of commercial sensitivities when designing learning activities, particularly where peer review and group work are involved. You may have apprentices in the same cohort whose employers are in direct competition with one another.

Voices of experience

‘You need to make sure that you understand the local market , the local labour force, you need to understand your employers and what their skill shortages are and you need also to understand that they may not hundred percent understand themselves what they want and the key is to unpick that.’ Lee Bird, head of engineering faculty, PROCAT

‘It’s really important to have a process of continuous improvement so I’d encourage all parties involved to have regular communication lines open and to provide real, honest feedback about what’s really working well and what’s not working so they can always adjust.’ Kini Pathmanathan, VP, Human Resources, Thales, UK

‘We tend to find universities very academically focused and it takes them a while to understand our business. There is a need to change the University mindset right from the kick-off meetings and make sure they see the employer as their customer.’ Large employer with many higher-level apprentices.

Effective practice

12 November 2018

Staff readiness

What you need to know

For many colleges and universities work-based learning has long been an important part of their provision especially in subjects such as health and engineering. For other institutions and disciplines the move to delivering apprenticeships can represent a significant cultural shift on top of getting to grips with the technicalities of the requirements.

The University of Derby is an example of a higher education provider that views apprenticeships as very much a mainstream part of provision.

‘This university promotes a mindset of inclusivity in terms of apprenticeships.’ Ann Minton, University of Derby.

Why it matters

Successful apprenticeship delivery requires many parts of the organisation to work together in a coordinated manner. Even if you are planning to start small and pilot a single apprenticeship, all staff involved will need to understand the overall aims and their particular role.

For some people this will be a tiny part of a very busy job so they need to understand the benefits and to be supported in their role.

In the Prepare section of this guide we look in more detail at how apprenticeships differ from the majority of academic provision in higher education. This is just a summary of some of the staff roles that will face new challenges in delivering apprenticeships.

Administrative roles

  • From market research looking at the labour market, course approval and marketing and communications with employers, admitting and enrolling apprentices, through to managing the financial transactions and statutory reporting about these learners - the processes are different. Good communications between all stakeholders are needed to ensure the experience for employers and apprentices is a professional one. There is more on this topic in the sections on data and information.

Learning and teaching roles

  • Academics will be designing a different type of learning that has all the rigour of a standard degree with additional elements as well. They will be engaging in a different set of stakeholder relationships where employers are partners in ensuring student success. There is more on this topic in the sections on synergy between on and off the job learning.

Support roles

  • Apprentices will spend most of their time off campus and may do a lot of work outside typical hours. They will not have the same level of familiarity with your environment and/or peer support as the bulk of your undergraduates. There is more on this topic in the section on supporting apprentices.

What are the issues?

Change management

You cannot expect staff to take on changed roles and, potentially, additional workload without ensuring they understand why you are doing this and have access to the support they need.

Digital capability

Effective use of digital technologies is key to successful apprenticeship delivery. Many universities are now adopting blended approaches to learning and teaching and it is rare to find academic programmes that are delivered without any use of technology.

Apprenticeships pose particular challenges however and may require a higher degree of virtual engagement than many other courses.

We offer resources to help conversations about what digital capabilities mean to you, support staff reflect on and develop their digital capabilities, and help you identify and address any gaps.

Voices of experience

‘We need to be asking questions such as ‘What does it mean to be a nurse?’ Being a healthcare professional will mean something completely different in five years’ time. Increasingly nurses are becoming educators and showing people how to monitor their own health and respond to it.’ Helen Beetham, educational consultant ​

‘We are just starting some new two year degree apprenticeships and are looking to adapt the existing curriculum. We know we will need more diagnostics, more online learning and more summary and catch up activities. We don’t really need to persuade anyone to change as the need for change is obvious.’ Jasper Shotts, University of Lincoln

Effective practice

Planning

12 November 2017

Validation and approval

What you need to know

Our research shows that, for the most part, the degree level apprenticeships offered by universities are adaptations of existing degree courses rather than programmes that have been designed and approved afresh.

We discuss the academic aspects of this topic further in our section on approaches to apprenticeship design. Those that have started with a ‘blank sheet of paper’ have found the process easier but there are many practical reasons why adaptation is the preferred route in most cases.

Why it matters

Your course validation and approval processes will need to take account of the fact that apprenticeships are different to typical degree courses.

You will be used to quality assuring learning outcomes for courses and modules but you will also need to be clear how the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) needed to meet the apprenticeship standard will be delivered.

Apprenticeships in England also require an independently assessed, synoptic end point assessment (EPA). Some standards allow for degree apprenticeships to include an ‘integrated EPA’ conducted by the higher education validating body/provider. Other standards specify that the EPA is conducted externally, often by a professional body.

Your quality assurance processes will need to ensure apprenticeship students can meet all the requirements of the standard (even where some of this is met by workplace learning or subcontracted provision).

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) stresses the position of employers as the main driver in the development process and states ‘The traditional approach, where a higher education provider would invite an employer to endorse a programme after it has been designed, will not suffice.’

From a purely pragmatic point of view, many higher-level apprenticeships will be designed without knowing exactly which employers will take up the offer. You will need a sound framework curriculum with learning activities that lend themselves to workplace contextualisation.

What are the issues?

Processes

You will need to ensure that your validation and review processes can fit the particular circumstances of apprenticeships. This includes consideration of issues such as:

  • Employer involvement in the design process
  • Skills and experience of the programme development team
  • Capturing all of the necessary information
  • How major and minor change processes apply when contextualising for different employers
  • The appropriate cycle and approach for review (and what data you might have to inform this)
  • How related quality processes fit with apprenticeships eg do extenuating circumstances adequately cover workplace pressures?

Language

Each group of stakeholders tends to use its own vocabulary. Not only are there differences between academia and the workplace - different business units within universities have a particular perspective reflected in their language. Programme and module descriptions prepared for academic quality approval processes often contain a relatively ‘technical’ vocabulary that does not readily lend itself to use in customer facing processes. This results in a situation where the same basic information is redrafted multiple times for different purposes/audiences.

Accurate descriptions

Education provision is now regulated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The premise of this is that purchasing a course of study is no different to purchasing any other consumer item. The learning experience must be delivered exactly as described in the pre-purchase information or the customer has a right to a refund of fees and other compensation. Institutions need to be aware of this when providing course information and considering the terms of their contracts with employers.

Voices of experience

‘The clarity of the relationship between KSBs and programme and module learning outcomes is a key consideration for higher education providers of higher and degree apprenticeships.’ Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

‘On the design side it needs a different approach. You are likely to need ‘shell modules’ and a different approach to writing learning outcomes with a different language, less specificity and more flexibility to adapt to professional needs. You will need a much quicker response time for employers looking to send people on courses and this will be impossible to achieve with the traditional approach. You need re-purposable modules that can be changed very quickly.’ Paul Bartholomew, University of Ulster ​

‘Not all of the modules in the programme meet the needs of the apprenticeship and there are gaps between what the apprenticeship requires and what the degree can deliver.’Anonymous, Post 92 University

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Apprenticeship ​design

What you need to know

An apprenticeship is a job with a requirement for 20% off the job training. Employees can be apprentices if they are working towards the achievement of an approved apprenticeship standard which defines the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to perform their job role. Apprenticeships are designed specifically to meet the needs of employers.

This makes apprenticeships a unique type of learning quite distinct from sandwich courses, placements and any other type of work-based learning. ​

Why it matters

Apprenticeship standards have been designed by employer-led consortia known as ‘Trailblazers’. The standards contain assessment plans, in varying degrees of detail, and specify arrangements for a holistic endpoint assessment (EPA).

The higher education level qualification is thus only one component of the learning experience. Meeting the requirements for the degree (or other qualification) allows the apprentice to pass through the gateway process to establish whether or not they are ready for EPA. ​

The apprenticeship standard will specify whether the EPA is integrated into the degree or must be conducted by a separate assessment organisation. This means that universities may be training apprentices for a final assessment that will be carried out by a third party. ​

What are the issues?

If that all sounds very different to typical higher education courses, that’s because it is.

Universities and colleges offering degree level apprenticeships can either design them from scratch or adapt an existing course.

Our research shows that those who start with a ‘clean sheet of paper’ and design an apprenticeship for what it is generally find this an easier process than those who try to adapt an existing offer.

The fact remains however that most degree apprenticeships have been adapted from existing programmes. In some cases this is because of the timing of the Trailblazer process for creating the apprenticeship standards. In some cases this is due to the timescales for university internal validation and approval processes. In many cases it is simply because the University believes that this will be the easiest option.

Jamie Harle, University of Greenwich stresses the need to think about the impact a change in delivery mode might have if adapting an existing course eg if your students generally have a few lectures spread over a week with a ‘spacing effect’ inbuilt for reflection on that learning, what is the impact of changing to block delivery? ​

However you approach the design you will need to ensure that apprentices will gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSB) needed to meet the apprenticeship standard. Some of this will be delivered in the workplace so you need to have a holistic picture of the apprenticeship as a whole. There is more on this topic in the section on synergy between on and off the job learning.

Voices of experience

‘We shouldn’t try and knock the corners off an existing programme and squeeze it into a round hole and call it an apprenticeship. We should start with the apprenticeship standard and what the employers need and develop a programme around that instead of saying ‘This is what we’ve got so we’ll see how we can make it fit.’ Ann Minton, University of Derby

‘Degree apprenticeships challenge the established norms of UK university education in a termly or semester model.’ Jamie Harle, University of Greenwich

‘The definition of ABL [active blended learning ] is deliberately as loose as it can be in order to encourage staff to apply it in their own area in the way that suits their subject best. For example, active learning for future nurses may be very different to active learning for accountants so there is a need to personalise the experience’. Rob Howe, University of Northampton

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Synergy on and off the job

What you need to know

An apprenticeship is a job with a 20% protected educational component - this is a mantra that we repeat throughout this guide. Apprentices are doing a full-time job and a degree at the same time and up to 80% of their learning takes place in the workplace. Your learning design needs to recognise this and, equally importantly, so does your auditable record of activity.

Why it matters

The higher education sector is showing a lot of interest in active learning techniques at the moment and apprenticeships provide a real opportunity to demonstrate what we mean by this. ​

Apprentices do not have a lot of time to undertake desk research so we need to facilitate them learning by doing. Moreover, apprentices bring a wide variety of workplace experience that can enhance teaching sessions.

Frequently you will validate courses to meet particular higher and degree apprenticeship standards without knowing which employers will take up the offer. When it comes to running the apprenticeship, you will then have to flesh out your framework learning design with a set of learning activities and assessed assignments to meet the needs of a particular cohort.

In one sense this is no different to any other kind of degree level learning design where the macro level curriculum is brought to life in smaller chunks of learning that may involve different activities and outcomes for different groups. There are however likely to be additional complications in the case of apprenticeships. ​ There may be issues of fit both between:

  • The degree and the apprenticeship standard and
  • The apprenticeship standard and the job role

What are the issues?

You should not underestimate the logistics involved in knowing what all of your apprentices are doing in the workplace and scheduling learning activities to correlate with this.

Managing study time

You will need to find a mode of delivery that works for you as a provider and works for the employer and the apprentice. You will have a view as to what kind of blocks of study/time on task works well in your discipline and you may need to negotiate this with the employer. For example, an hour or so a day every day may be insufficient time for the apprentice to engage fully with a task even though it amounts to 20% of working time overall.

You will need to be clear that 20% off the job is actually being delivered as you will be audited on this. It matters to you whether the apprentice is contracted to work 37 hours a week or 40. Weekend and evening study can only count towards the off the job element if this is part of the apprentice’s normal working hours. It may be possible to accommodate this if the employer is willing to give time off in lieu during the working week. ​

Many employers will require flexibility as workplace emergencies do occur. You must not forget though that it is your responsibility to ensure that the apprentices for which you are claiming funding are actually undertaking the planned study.

Nature of cohort

Closed cohorts for a single employers are likely to be easier to design for than mixed groups from diverse employers. However, closed cohorts for large employers, are often every bit as geographically diverse as mixed groups.

Professional confidentiality

Whether you are dealing with healthcare professionals working with patients or scientists in industry dealing with patents, there are likely to be sensitivities around the sharing and discussion of workplace experience. Employers, in particular, may need to be convinced of the benefits of activities such as peer review and group work.

Equal opportunities

Further and higher education institutions have a strong focus on equal opportunities. In the context of apprenticeships, providers will have to ensure that access to learning opportunities takes account of the diversity of employment settings. This means structuring scheduled learning and assessment to take account of working patterns.

Voices of experience

‘Apprentices need to be able to relate their workplace experiences, which are 80% of their time, to the core underlying themes and principles taught within the course. They are all working with different techniques and have different in-job experiences that relate to this core material.’ Jamie Harle, University of Greenwich

‘We are doing a lot more skills-based activities and we have to be able to prove that they not only have the knowledge but that they know how to use it, and in what circumstances, it adds a bit of pressure onto the purely academic side of the programme.’ Mark Price, University of Wolverhampton ​

‘It is a big ask to work out what every individual apprentice is doing in their workplace to ensure synergy between on and off the job elements.’ Anonymous, Post 92 University

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Blended Learning

What you need to know

The majority of learning in higher education nowadays is ‘blended learning’ using some combination of face-to-face activities and digital tools and resources to deliver the best possible learning experience. The term suggests careful and deliberate integration of online and face-to-face activities and effective blended learning design is particularly important for apprenticeships. ​

The use of digital tools can occur before, during or after a face-to-face session and support a variety of pedagogic purposes. The blended component, for example, might aim to extend the time spent on task, develop information literacy skills, stimulate interest before a class, or enable apprentices to work at their own pace afterwards.

Why it matters

‘In learning that is truly digital by design, students have an enhanced set of learning experiences moving seamlessly between physical and virtual environments that are supportive, stimulating, engaging, challenging and inspiring.’ (Ferrell and Smith 2018)

Digital tools are key to apprentices having a holistic learning experience, moving seamlessly between university and work environments and applying learning from each in the other.

What are the issues?

Good design will ensure that teaching can be adaptive and responsive to apprentice needs at any point in the curriculum. The traditional model of a fixed curriculum delivered by a tutor at set points will not work for apprenticeships. You need broad learning outcomes that are open to apprentices contextualising the activities and using different tools. There may be more asynchronous learning activity taking place individually or in small groups.

It will help to give your staff an indication of what tools you recommend and what level of support you can provide for each. This diagram from Manchester Metropolitan University provides a model for this:

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Voices of experience

‘This is a really exciting time because technology is still new enough not to be constrained by traditional usage.’ Peter Shukie, University College Blackburn

Sky’s story

Sky is on a two year NVQ Creative Digital Media Apprenticeship course at Basingstoke College of Technology (BCOT). “I struggled in a standard, old fashioned classroom,” she says, “and digital has been a lot of what helped me get to where I am. Being able to use digital tools, being able to work independently using digital tools, sort of helped me to stay on track.” Now as a Creative Digital Apprentice at BCOT, she is supporting and encouraging teaching staff by offering her digital skills and explaining her digital experiences as a learner.

Read Sky’s case study here.

Ben’s story

Ben, studied for a BSc in Digital and Technology Solutions at Aston University as a degree apprentice whilst working full time at Capgemini, an IT consultancy and outsourcing company. He talked to Jisc about how digital technologies helped him study.

Read Ben’s case study here.

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Online Learning

What you need to know

Almost all learning these days consists of a blend of traditional approaches and activities that make use of digital tools and resources. Most learning is therefore technology-enhanced or blended learning (and contains elements of e-learning although the term is less frequently used now). ​

This section concerns learning that takes place mostly online ie distance learning in the digital environment.

Why it matters

The drivers behind online learning include the flexibility it can offer and hence, many providers are interested in the possibilities of delivering apprenticeships online.

What are the issues?

The success of blended learning can serve to mask how fundamentally different wholly online learning is. Many experienced learning designers have told us there is a chasm that staff are not well supported to bridge.

In particular, because the use of digital tools can be seen to bring efficiencies in many ways, people often fail to understand the resource implications of developing fully online learning. There is a need for a much clearer workload model associated with this form of learning and for associated staff development.

Voices of experience

‘Online learning will start to take up a bigger space … This should be the absolute first choice for a terrific amount of students. They can work and earn and also live at home: it’s an affordable way to get a really good degree.’ Ruth Grindey, University College of Estate Management (UCEM)

‘There is a huge difference between face-to-face and wholly online courses and people often don’t realise how fundamentally different it is and how to bridge that chasm.’ Rod Cullen, Manchester Metropolitan University

‘There is often a perception among senior managers that a successful on campus course can be magically turned into a successful online course with the same staff and the same resources. They often don’t realise the need for investment in staff development and the inherent risk in this is that you always go for a very content driven model.’ Anonymous, Post 92 University ​

‘We find students very motivated but they often struggle to cope with workload issues, particularly with synchronous events online.’ Survey response ​

Effective practice

Delivery

12 November 2017

Initial assessment and induction

What you need to know

For each apprentice you will need to undertake an initial assessment of their functional skills if they do not already have level 2 maths and English qualifications. There may be additional diagnostic tests recommended by particular professional bodies.

Using digital tools to undertake these assessments offers considerable advantages over paper-based testing.

  • Online tests can be marked in seconds
  • Paper-based evaluations do not provide data that can be easily analysed to improve organisational performance
  • Paper-based tests cannot provide intelligent ‘branching’ based on apprentice’s answers
  • Paper-based tests are harder to adapt to allow for known special needs

​Initial assessment may be carried out at induction or separately and here we have chosen to combine the two.

Why it matters

Records of the initial assessment are an essential part of the evidence pack required for ESFA audit purposes. ​

You will already have a student induction process. This may need to be adapted to fit apprentices who will be mainly located in their workplace and will not have a lot of time to familiarise themselves with your campus and available support services. ​

What are the issues?

Apprentices may have the required level 2 maths and/or English qualifications but may still need some support with these functional skills to fully meet the requirements of a degree. This is often the case where existing employees, who did the qualifications many years ago, are being retrained.

Many apprentices, even when they have studied in further education, may need help in understanding the expectations of them as independent learners in higher education.

New employees may be undergoing their employment induction at the same time as their course induction. Induction typically encompasses the following: ​

  • Features and benefits of being an apprentice
  • Structure of the apprenticeship programme and arrangements for reviews, delivery, support and assessment
  • Introduction to employment, rights and responsibilities
  • Introduction to equality and diversity
  • Introduction to health and safety
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • Other policies and procedures eg what to do if unable to attend a scheduled session
  • Introduction to LMS and any other IT requirements
  • Safeguarding
  • Completion of programme forms e.g. learner agreement, IT policy agreement
  • Support services including IT help, learning support, pastoral and welfare services

​It is a lot to take in so anything you and the employer can do to streamline and clarify the information will be helpful.

Voices of experience

‘Students have to develop excellent time management and organisation - some find this more challenging than others, and we have had provide more support initially than we had forecast.’ Survey response

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Individual learning plan

What you need to know

Every apprentice needs to have an individual learning plan (ILP) that is part of the evidence pack for ESFA audit. The ILP contains all important details about delivery and assessment and ensures that the apprentice has a clear route to meeting the standard. ​

This is a living document that should be updated throughout the apprenticeship to give an at a glance summary of experience and achievements.

Why it matters

Your standard university enrolment process will not cover all of the information needed for your individualised learner return (ILR) to ESFA. Completing the ILP offers an opportunity to collect data that can feed the rest of the apprenticeship process. ​

A good ILP should go beyond the legal requirement and be used as a tool to stretch, challenge and support apprentices. This can be achieved more effectively if the ILP is in digital format. ​

What are the issues?

The ILP contains a considerable amount of information including:

  • Apprentice’s job role and new skills required
  • Apprentice’s experience and achievements
  • Details of the apprenticeship to be undertaken and the total planned length of the apprenticeship
  • A description of how the apprenticeship will be delivered and how the apprentice will achieve, including how the 20% off the job training will be quantified and delivered
  • Details of any support needs
  • Details of learning and skills required outside of the identified qualifications
  • Details of sub-contracting arrangements
  • Details of the end point assessment organisation

An electronic version of paper, such as an interactive PDF, can offer improved opportunities for storage and retrieval for updating, but an e-portfolio system has the potential to capture an apprentice’s journey in far greater detail. ​

Voices of experience

Just developing apprentices to the point where they pass isn’t stretching them enough. You need to encourage them to achieve but set targets above the learners’ own expectations. Don’t teach them to pass - teach them to excel.’ Ros Parker, Principal, PROCAT

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Supporting apprentices

What you need to know

Apprentices are as diverse a group of individuals as you will find in any student population. What they have in common is a particular set of pressures around combining a full-time job with study and home life.

The good news is that apprentices at higher levels tend to be highly motivated students. Our survey on the delivery challenges showed that only 8% of providers find student motivation to be a significant problem. ​

Why it matters

Effective use of digital technologies is key to keeping apprentices engaged and motivated by offering them the flexibility and support they need.

Much of the design ethos in all of our learning and teaching guides is based on the idea of active learning. Students need to be fully engaged with their learning activities and take appropriate responsibility for their own learning and this is particularly true for apprentices.

Creating a dialogue around the learning activities and the purpose they serve can help. With apprentices who have experienced very traditional teaching methods up to now you may need to address misconceptions about what constitutes ‘proper teaching’. ​

Allowing learners to see how participating in a variety of different activities, and using a range of digital tools, benefits learning is key to successful engagement.

What are the issues?

Apprentices will come to you with very different levels of digital capability. Providers tell us they experience a wide spectrum of digital capabilities even when working with individuals who have similar roles with the same employer.

Apprentices spending little or no time on campus will not develop the familiarity with your environment that other students do. They will not have ready face-to-face access to library staff, study skills tutors etc and it may also be more difficult to develop peer support networks.

Apprentices will need as much guidance on matters of e-safety as other students. There may be situations where you are legally the ‘prime’ provider with some provision subcontracted to other providers such as a local FE college. This means you may have apprentices in contact with learners aged 14+ and additional safeguarding issues may apply.

Apprentices need an effective support network covering both on and off the job learning. They will need to be clear about who can support them with what aspects of the apprenticeship. ​

This diagram shows likely sources of support within the three-way dynamic of the student – university – employer relationship supporting apprenticeships or when learning is disrupted.

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Voices of experience

‘The pastoral role is a really big one for us as an employer. Given the age of the apprentices and the fact that for many of them it is their first job, and there are many other things going on in their lives, it is a lot to take on.’ Anonymous employer perspective.

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Evidencing learning

What you need to know

Apprentices need to provide evidence of their learning. The evidence needed differs from the kinds of artefacts you might use to evaluate whether students on traditional higher education courses are making appropriate progress.

The evidence isn’t only leading up to a final assessment of academic ability; it is also used for funding and to demonstrate the broader set of knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) needed to meet the apprenticeship standard. ​ The range and complexity of evidence needed makes digital solutions a must and e-portfolio systems are an obvious place to look for solutions.

Why it matters

Without a robust digital solution you are unlikely to have an effective and cost efficient approach to:

  • Meeting your funding requirements by having an auditable record of the time apprentices spend on their learning
  • Supporting learning effectively by ensuring synergy between workplace and academic learning and a shared view of feedback and progress
  • Identifying when apprentices already to pass through the gateway to end-point assessment ​

What are the issues?

Northumbria University has shared its requirements specification for evidencing learning and these needs are typical of what other providers will also require:

  • Easy means for gathering, storing and cataloguing evidence from the workplace
  • Provision of templates to prompt deeper reflection in relation to workplace experiences and learning
  • Need to record off-the-job training – counting hours
  • Records of workplace mentor meetings and workplace visits
  • Means to share information securely between the apprentice, university tutors, workplace coaches and the employer
  • End point assessment - Portfolio
  • Minimal administration

Not all of the e-portfolio systems currently in use in higher education will be geared up to meeting all of the requirements of apprenticeships. Supporting reflection on learning is a common requirement on traditional degree courses but detailed tracking of time spent on learning is less usual.

This diagram shows the different types of evidence that may be needed.

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Voices of experience

‘80% of learning for apprentices occurs in the workplace so that has to be a key locus of learning and the programme has to be designed to effectively capture and develop their learning within the workplace not just in the 20% off-the-job where they sit in a classroom here. That’s the difference between a proper degree apprenticeship and an academic programme that sits within a set of apprenticeship arrangements. The idea is that the apprenticeship arrangements and the degree are synonymous with each other and they are very much integrated.’ Ann Minton, University of Derby

Effective practice

Assessment

12 November 2017

Synoptic approach

What you need to know

Assessment is a major driver of student behaviour. This is true throughout higher education and particularly so for apprenticeships.

Apprentices are time poor so there will be a natural tendency to see what is assessed as priority areas for expending effort.

The upside of this is that contextualisation to the workplace gives assessment in apprenticeships an authenticity that many courses aspire to but few achieve.

Why it matters

You are not only assessing apprentices with the ultimate goal of awarding a degree. You are also preparing them for an end point assessment (EPA) that may require them to demonstrate knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) additional to/different from the requirements of the degree.

Many higher level apprenticeship standards require EPA to be carried out by a separate organisation from the training provider. The idea of preparing learners for assessment by another organisation is familiar to providers in the FE and skills sector but, for the most part, alien to higher education.

What are the issues?

Many of the potential issues surrounding the three-way fit between the apprenticeship standard, the degree on offer and the job role are covered in the sections on supporting apprentices.

The apprenticeship assessment plans were devised by employer-led Trailblazer groups. In some cases providers feel they do not always conform to what is considered current higher education best practice. The assessment plans are however open to interpretation so the challenge is to overcome any perceived defects.

Employers will have their own views on what constitutes appropriate assessment. We have heard of tensions between provider views on academic rigour and employer views on practical approaches so approaches will need to be negotiated.

Done right, apprenticeships offer some of the best opportunities in the sector to demonstrate learning and achievement.

Voices of experience

‘This is situated learning. The learner drives the learning through the lens of their role and their job at work and uses real-work activity to inform the assessment process not something that has been contrived for academic study.’ Ann Minton

‘Apprenticeships are a difficult balancing act as they are full-time employees and have home life as well so they are very focused on assessment. There is a focus on ‘is this material directly related to the assignment or not’? The risk is losing the more rounded educational aspects due to this focus on assessment.’ Mark Price

‘We are constantly thinking up ways to create an assignment that isn’t made up of 20 parts to meet all the requirements. You have to start with assessment and work backwards.’ Mark Price

12 November 2017

Feedback, monitoring and review

What you need to know

Feedback provides information to apprentices about where they are in relation to their learning goals so that they can evaluate their progress, identify gaps or misconceptions in their understanding and take remedial action. ​

Generated by tutors, peers, mentors, supervisors, a computer, or as a result of self-assessment, feedback is a vital component of effective learning.

Why it matters

Research tells us that effective feedback processes are one of the most important contributory factors to student success.

Recognising feedback for what it is and knowing how to apply it in future are key to developing independent, self-directed learners. This is important for all learners but particularly so in the context of apprenticeships. ​ We have a wealth of experience in this area summarised in our guides cited in the effective practice section.

What are the issues?

Common issues for all types of learner may be exacerbated in an apprenticeship:

  • Timeliness of feedback - especially from academic tutors
  • Recognising feedback - apprentices will receive tutor, mentor, manager, supervisor and peer feedback in many formats and will need to understand how to apply it to the learning
  • Quality of feedback - good feedback is not only corrective it also feeds forward so you understand what you need to do differently next time; not all of those giving feedback to apprentices may be trained to apply good practice in doing so

Additional issues arise because of the complex three way relationships involved in an apprenticeship - see the model in the section on supporting apprentices.

Each of the players involved has a specific role to play. However they also have ‘deficits’. An academic tutor may not be totally up-to-date with workplace practices and a workplace mentor may struggle to situate experiences in underlying theories and methodologies.

Good employers will want to be fully involved in this process, sometimes to the extent of seeing feedback before the apprentice so that they can support them in reacting to it. We show in the section on working with employers that data protection regulations are not necessarily a barrier to effective three-way communications. You need to discuss and clarify procedures beforehand and ensure that your contract covers the intended approach. Being an apprentice is not easy and you need to ensure the processes are working well in this vital area.

Voices of experience

‘Employers absolutely want to see this [feedback] and would be on our backs if the feedback isn’t good enough.’ Davis Soloman, PROCAT ​

‘Employers with one or two apprentices want as much feedback as those with 10 to 12.’ Mark Price, University of Wolverhampton

Effective practice

12 November 2017

Gateway to end point assessment (EPA)

What you need to know

An apprentice can only take the end-point assessment (EPA) once they have satisfied the gateway requirements set out in the assessment plan and their employer and training provider are content they have attained sufficient skills, knowledge and behaviours. ​

The gateway is referred to in some standards a discussion with the apprentice, employer and trainer to sign off that the candidate has met the standards prior to end assessment, and in other assessment plans it is a formal submission of evidence. ​

Why it matters

The gateway matters because it is a fundamental part of the apprenticeship process even though the process may be a relatively light touch one in the integrated degree model where the EPA is being carried out by the university. ​

Where the EPA is carried out by another body it is important that you as the training provider and the employer have a shared view of the apprentices readiness.

What are the issues?

Few higher education providers have yet been through this process, especially not a gateway to external EPA, so there is not a lot of experience to share.

We invite you to contact us if you would like to contribute to this section of the guide. Please contact lisa.gray@jisc.ac.uk

12 November 2017

End point assessment (EPA)

What you need to know

​A reminder of what we said up front: an apprenticeship is a job and a higher education level qualification is only one component of what makes up a higher level apprenticeship.

Generally learners in higher education are working towards a degree as their ultimate goal. For apprentices, a degree is a, very important but, penultimate step along the way (even though the two may be closely interrelated in the integrated model).

Why it matters

The apprenticeship standard will specify arrangements for a holistic endpoint assessment (EPA) that evaluates the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) required to perform the job role.

The EPA can only be carried out once the minimum duration for the apprenticeship is complete. ​

The apprenticeship standard will specify whether the EPA is integrated into the degree or must be conducted by a separate assessment organisation. This means that universities may be training apprentices for a final assessment that will be carried out by a third party - the choice of which rests with the employer. Some standards may involve the apprentice completing a period of further workplace experience prior to EPA eg where a professional body is awarding chartered status upon successful completion of the EPA.

What are the issues?

The issues vary considerably between apprenticeship standards where the EPA is integrated into the degree ie carried out by the University and those standards where the EPA is external to the University.

Integrated EPA is generally far easier to plan for and manage. The degree may contain a final ‘capstone’ module, the assessment for which constitutes the EPA.

If you are registered to do EPA for a standard (or thinking of applying to register) you need to be aware that the EPA must be carried out by assessors who have relevant practice-based experience and expertise. Academic subject expertise may not be sufficient to qualify your lecturers as assessors competent to assess against the requirements of the job role.

Where the EPA is external matters are more complicated.

  • The employer must choose the EPA organisation and there will be a separate contract with them.
  • The choice of EPA organisation may not be known when the apprentices start their programme.
  • Funding for the EPA comes out of the total funding for the apprenticeship and the cost may not be known at the start of the apprenticeship.
  • Organisations need to register to deliver EPA for particular apprenticeship standards and currently many standards have a limited choice of, or indeed no, approved EPA organisation.
  • The EPA organisation may use different systems and assessment methods to your own.

Voices of experience

‘In most areas of academic practice students are working towards academic achievement with a degree certificate as the endpoint. With a degree apprenticeship it is more work-based learning and developing a synergy between workplace experiences, learning from them and reflecting on them against the academic models.’ Patrick Viney, Northumbria University ​

‘Apprenticeships are about knowledge, skills and behaviours. Knowledge is bread-and-butter stuff for universities. Universities do some skills. Universities don’t usually go anywhere near behaviours.’ Mark Price, University of Wolverhamptons

Effective practice

The journey continues - the end of an apprenticeship doesn't signify the end of all training. Job roles can change and apprentices may wish to explore progression opportunities.