Apprenticeships plan set out

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The new Institute for Apprenticeships, which launched this month, will regulate the quality of apprenticeships, including the new apprenticeship standards produced by employers.

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The Institute for Apprenticeships will be responsible for the quality of apprenticeships

It will also ensure that apprenticeships deliver relevant, up-to-date skills.

The new independent public body will be an employer-led regulator responsible for ensuring that apprenticeships in England are of high quality.

According to the IFA’s operational plan, Driving the quality of apprenticeships in England, which has just been published, the institute’s core business will be to become the guardian of quality for apprenticeship standards and assessment plans. Its initial focus will be on becoming world class at regulating their content and advising on the amount of funding that each should be allocated.

The new independent public body is designed to ensure the highest standards for apprenticeships and support the Government’s plan to create three million apprenticeships by 2020. The plan outlines the institute’s aims and approach to quality.

The operational plan provides details of the institute’s policies and functions and how it will:
    •    regulate the quality of apprenticeship proposals, standards and assessment plans;
    •    collaborate with partners;
    •    lead reforms to technical education;
    •    and implement the new system.

The institute is developing and maintaining apprenticeship standards and assessment plans, and will review and approve them. It will maintain a public database of these standards and give advice on government funding as well as having a role in quality assurance. The Government’s plans include expanding the Institute’s remit to encompass technical education in England from 2018, set out in the Post-16 Skills Plan.

In the foreword to the plan, Antony Jenkins, chair of the IFA, said,‘Why an Institute for Apprenticeships? For too long this country has under-invested in skills and subsequently we’ve lost the support, and the confidence, of employers and apprentices along the way.
‘This time, it’s different. This time, we have the funding in place, a broad agenda of skills-reform offering the opportunity to achieve comprehensive and coherent change, and employers embedded within the decision-making structure of the institute.’

He added, ‘The Institute’s aims and approach to improving quality are outlined in this document. We believe these are straightforward, direct and powerful, but the mechanisms for their delivery can be complex. We do not underestimate the work ahead and there’s a lot more we need to do to deliver. This is just the beginning.

'Employers are central to everything we are doing; they know what they want their employees to learn, and the skills that really drive productivity for their industry.’

Earlier this month, the Government published strategic guidance for the work of the Institute, which set out its core functions. These include developing and maintaining quality criteria for the approval of apprenticeship standards and assessment plans, and supporting the development of standards and assessment plans by employer groups, and reviewing and approving them.

The IFA will also advise the Government on the maximum amount of funding that should be assigned to each apprenticeship standard; maintain a public database of apprenticeship standards and publish information illustrating potential gaps; regularly review published standards and assessment plans; ensure all end-point assessments are quality assured.

Trailblazers

Following the 2012 Richard Review into English apprenticeships, the Government said it was committed to reforming apprenticeships by replacing the old set of apprenticeship frameworks with employer-designed apprenticeship standards that are more aligned to the knowledge, skills and behaviours that employers are looking for.

According to the plan, 215 employer groups have developed more than 490 new apprenticeship standards through the trailblazer programme, and 157 of these are now ‘approved for delivery’. This is compared to 4,661 Ofqual regulated qualifications in 597 pathways through existing frameworks.

The Department for Education has recently appointed a new Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer group, led by Busy Bees nurseries, after it dismissed the previous employer-led group in February following a row over GCSE equivalents.

The requirement for Level 3 Early Years Educators to hold GSCEs in maths and English at grade C or above was overturned last month by early years minister Caroline Dinenage.

Former chair of the trailblazer Chrissy Meleady has threatened legal action if the Government doesn’t reconsider its decision.

Consultation response

A consultation on the role of the IFA was held in January and a report on the responses has also been published.

Forty-five responses were received from Higher Education (HE) and Further Education organisations, employers, charities, regulatory bodies, accrediting bodies, Trade Unions, local authorities, professional bodies and training providers.

Over time, the institute said it will take on a more active role providing funding advice to DfE, and the responses to the consultation will help to inform the development of this work.

In response to calls for greater transparency and for funding decisions to be based on cost of delivery, the institute will require Trailblazers to submit a costing form alongside their standard and/or assessment plan to support the process. In making recommendations,
the institute said it would have regard to the factors set out in the DfE’s strategic guidance including affordability, improving quality, securing growth in apprenticeships and improving take up among disadvantaged groups.

Commenting on the plan, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers CEO Mark Dawe said, ‘The Government has at least attempted to address AELP’s concerns over who has overall responsibility for the quality of the apprenticeship programme, although we still strongly believe that Ofsted should remain the principal arbiter of which providers should be allowed to deliver the training and all inspections should operate off the same inspection framework. 

‘The ongoing switch from frameworks to standards, as the Early Years Educator case has shown, needs to be handled with care rather than haste and certainly apprentices should not be allowed to start on new standards without an approved assessment process being in place.’

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