Training Today: Apprenticeships and T-Levels roundup - All happening

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Since the end of the Level 3 apprenticeship standard impasse, more apprenticeships are in development. Hannah Crown rounds up the big changes within vocational training

APPRENTICESHIPS: Level 2

Last month came the announcement that a new trailblazer group has been set up to develop a standard for a Level 2 Early Years Practitioner apprenticeship.

The news couldn’t come soon enough for the sector as new Level 2 qualifications based on new Department of Education criteria are coming in from September.

Michael Freeston, the Early Years Alliance’s director of quality improvement, who chairs the new L2 group, said the aim was to get the standard ready for delivery by then to avoid there being no apprenticeship route available once the existing Certificate for the Children’s and Young People’s Workforce is no longer full and relevant in a month’s time.

He told Nursery World, ‘The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), [which is responsible for overseeing the development of apprenticeship standards] have been very supportive. It has been helpful that the same IfA staff are involved in this process and therefore have the experience of working on the Level 3.

‘We are working on the draft of the assessment plan, considering what approaches to assessment are effective but also suitable and viable.’

The Level 3 standard, finally ready for delivery in April, was subject to several lengthy delays, the last of which was due to disagreement between the IfATE route panel (which has no PVI early years representatives) and the trailblazer group of early years employers about the nature of the assessment required.

It is understood that officials at the IfATE will, unusually, allow the group to submit both the standard and assessment plan together to speed things up, with the aim of passing the formal assessment and authorisation processes – via both an assessment panel and the route panel – at the first attempt.

The consultation, which closed on 5 July and received 73 responses, did not address the knowledge and skills requirements as these were taken from the DfE-defined criteria and can’t be changed.

Key issues were whether ICT and paediatric first-aid qualifications should be included (respondents were split), while the timeframe of 12 months is generally seen as correct. Mr Freeston added, ‘We are pleased that the role descriptors seem to have been accepted by the large majority. Whether there should be a paediatric first-aid qualification is going to be important for the group to consider.’

Other group members include former Busy Bees Training Academy chief Fay Gibbin, who led the Level 3 trailblazer group, and nursery groups including Kids Planet, the London Early Years Foundation, and Childbase. Awarding body CACHE is also advising.

The group planned to meet to consider the consultation responses and amend the standard on 12 July, and hopes to present the standard and assessment plan to the route panel by 9 August.

APPRENTICESHIPS: Level 3

With the new Level 3 standard finally up and running, a few training providers started delivering early, often large multi-disciplinary providers already delivering standards in other sectors, such as Interserve learning and employment, which has been delivering since April.

Head of sector for childcare and education Karen Derbyshire said the company signed up its first apprentice a week after the standard went live.

‘As soon as it was released, our project team got back together to work out what we needed to do. We had already done a lot of training with our staff to understand the difference between a standard and a framework. We had the starts booked in for the framework and gave employers the choice between framework or standard. They then gave the learners the choice,’ she said.

Hawk Training, which also delivers nationally, started in June after advertising the standard to employers and is delivering to both levy- and non-levy-payers. Director Crawford Knott said it had been ‘keen to start’ delivering the standard ‘in a measured way with the necessary support’. He added, ‘We have delivered over 60 end-point assessments (EPAs) in other sectors so it is a model we are already working with.’

Both started delivery before end-point assessment organisations had been finalised – no early years educator EPAs were in place at the time of Nursery World going to press – in the expectation that the EPAs would be in place by the time they near the end of their first apprenticeships, with Interserve choosing TQUK and CACHE as theirs.

Midlands-based childcare specialist Crackerjack Training waited until early July, choosing Pearson as its end-point assessment organisation.

Chris Baker, finance director, said they had waited because ‘there is no point taking anyone on the old framework – you get 2.5K funding.’

Other providers are waiting for the end-point assessment organisations before signing apprentices up. Lifetime Training said, ‘We are on track for September, assuming end-point assessment organisations are in place and have developed assessment criteria.’

Because the funding for the new standard has been set at £6,000 per apprentice – over double that of the framework, which saw its funding slashed – training providers are now trying to work out how to give value for money, though they say the fact that the employers’ upfront contribution of 10 per cent was cut in half in April has helped.

Ms Derbyshire said the standard ‘needed to feel very different to the framework. Because it costs a lot more, we need to show employers are going to get value for money. We explained to the trailblazer group this is what the sector has asked for.’

Apprentices are keen on the standard because of the new option to get a distinction (previously just pass or fail), Ms Derbyshire said.

Julie Hyde, CACHE director, added, ‘One of the selling points of the standard is that the end-point assessment gives the apprentice an independent assessment of their achievement. I’ve been speaking with some apprentices on other standards who have said they felt it really validated their work.’

APPRENTICESHIPS: Level 5

The Level 5 Early Years Lead Practitioner standard has been submitted by the L5/6 trailblazer to the route panel for consideration, the first stage of the approval process.

The idea is this apprenticeship should allow for ‘evidence-informed professionals’ who also meet the Level 3 requirements. No one qualification will be mandated, with the trailblazer group suggesting CACHE, BTEC and Foundation Degree qualifications as suitable in their proposals.

Core competencies correlate to those on the early years careers map. ‘At the heart of the proposed standard is the learning, well-being and safety of children. The standard aims for apprentices being able to use their knowledge and skills to be reflective and proactive practitioners, who aim to secure the best outcomes for children,’ said group chair Laura Upton, workforce improvement advisor at Leicestershire County Council.

The final stage, the assessment plan, is currently ‘work in progress. Early work within the trailblazer group has been undertaken to analyse the best assessment methods for the standard. Early indications from employers are that they would like to see observation and professional discussion as key components in the end-point assessment. No firm decisions have been made.’

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APPRENTICESHIPS: Level 6

This standard also comes under the auspices of the trailblazer group chaired by Ms Upton. ‘The Level 6 standard is less developed than the Level 5. The trailblazer group inherited this standard and has undertaken a body of work to share with the route panel how this route is distinctly different from the Level 5,’ she said.

‘As a degree apprenticeship, there will be a degree element, and this will be in a related discipline. It would not be to specify just one degree, but careful consideration is being made to the content of the degree in the standard. The key differences between the Level 5 and 6 are the elements of resource management, as well as leading pedagogical aspects of delivery.

‘The trailblazer group are not yet at the point of discussing assessment plans for the Level 6.’

Funding allocations

The Government has admitted that it hasn’t got enough money to fund apprenticeships. The DfE permanent secretary was forced to admit to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that ‘hard choices’ had to be made about the levy’s future unless the Spending Review came up with extra money. How is this affecting the early years sector?

Under the current system, large employers (with a payroll of over £3m) are charged the levy, money which they can then access to pay for apprenticeship training. In theory, unspent levy funds are then used to pay for apprenticeships at SMEs. In reality, the money has been rapidly consumed by levy-payers – with the rest of the sector fighting over the scraps.

Leftover money is given to smaller employers via training providers that are given funding allocations by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). However, because there isn’t enough cash in the system, many training providers have exceeded their initial funding allocation, with early years providers now wanting to deliver the more expensive Level 3 particularly hard hit.

Childcare specialist Crackerjack Training, which delivers mostly to SMEs, said, ‘We can probably take on half the number of people we took on last year. We will make representations to ESFA, but they had already said right at the start of this there won’t be any growth.’

Crawford Knott, from Hawk, said, ‘We get an allocation which allows for very little growth. It means we can’t take on as many apprentices as we would like. Along with other training providers, we are lobbying for funding to be ringfenced for SMEs.’

Around £500 million was allocated by the ESFA for delivering apprenticeships to SMEs between January 2018 and March 2019, compared with £1 billion in the previous 12-month period, according to an estimate from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

The Public Accounts Committee, in May 2019, said this situation is likely to get worse as ‘levy-paying employers have spent a relatively small proportion of their funds so far.’

AELP has submitted a 10-point sustainable investment plan to the Treasury calling for a separate SME budget of £1 billion a year ‘to enable the 98% of employers not paying the levy to have access to the programme.’ Without it, it warns, parts of the country could end up as ‘apprenticeship deserts’.

This allocations system was expected to be replaced with digital accounts for small employers from April, but this has been delayed for a year to ‘ensure a more gradual transition’.

T-LEVELS PILOT

fareham-college

       Fareham college

T-Level qualifications are now in development, with awarding body CACHE having won the bid to exclusively deliver the Education and Childcare T-Level from September 2020. Government funding of £5,802 per year (or £11,604 over the two) has just been announced and is higher than for the current Early Years Educator (EYE) programme.

T-Level programmes (designed to be equivalent to three A levels) cover both core and specialist content. The core modules, which cover birth to 19-year-olds, are taken in the first year, while the childcare specialism is taken in the second. This option will replace EYE, though the qualification will be closely aligned with it as it will be based on the EYE criteria.

Fareham College in Hampshire, which offers only vocational courses, is one of the first wave of pilot providers to offer T-Levels from 2020. ‘We are quite excited about it,’ says Michelle Young, faculty director, health, science and education.

‘I think it is good for the sector because vocational education has always been perceived as a poor relation to academic qualifications. T-Levels develop essential, work-ready skills.’ She says the college’s marketing teams were going into schools and talking about T-Levels in assemblies.

‘Initially people were not aware, but in our local area momentum is building. We did a local launch with head teachers to talk about them. Careers advisers and teachers need as much knowledge about T-Levels as possible. Schools are quite keen but I think they find that parents don’t understand the differences. A-Levels have been around since the 50s so it is a bit of a challenge to change mindsets.’

DIFFERENCE TO EYE

Ms Young says the ‘main difference’ between the Education and Childcare T-Level and EYE is the form the assessment takes. EYE courses include internally marked units, a longitudinal study and externally set and marked assessments. ‘The T-Level will be rigorous and challenging to achieve,’ she says.

In the first year, students sit an exam and an employer-set project, while the second year is assessed synoptically (testing the knowledge gained throughout several modules) through practical assignments set against performance outcomes. On the employer-set project, Ms Young says there had been confusion among employers. ‘The name implies that placement employers are setting the project when in fact there is an employer group at the awarding organisation setting it. I would imagine it is going to be like a research project – quite flexible but using research skills on an aspect of the job.’

PLACEMENTS

T-Level placements have also been controversial for the early years sector – the T-Level minimum placement is less than half the length of the current early years industry standard. Ms Young says, ‘The issue of placement has been raised a few times. We’re thinking of doing 315 hours in the second year that are assessed, and 315 in year one that are not. We know that sometimes placements don’t work out, but the T-Level guidance says there should be a maximum of two employers. Sometimes students need a few placements before they find one which works for them, so that is going to be quite challenging. The guidance does allow for up to five days at different employers as taster sessions.’

GREY AREAS

The new technical qualification specification won’t be available until March 2020, so with delivery set for September of the same year, the timetable is tight. This also means there are some grey areas which T-Level providers have to plan for but don’t know the detail of – such as what the required digital skills are.

Ms Young says, ‘We are working closely with the English and maths team to make sure we have skills to be able to support that in lessons. We don’t really know what digital skills is in the qualification – one of the original documents talks about webinars, so we’re looking at students making webinars. We are having to guess a little bit, it is not ideal – but they are trying to get feedback from us about how they design the qualification.’

Maths, English and digital skills are also likely to be contextualised within the qualification, Ms Young adds, as well as the requirement to have English and maths at Level 2 to count in ratios.

Aside from the obvious benefits of being an early deliverer, such as capital and CPD funding available to support pilot providers, there has also been the local connections. ‘One thing that has been really beneficial to us is linking up with other colleges to share best practice and ideas. There are a couple that are not quite competitors that we’re working closely with; we’ve agreed the same entry requirements for T-Levels, for example,’ Ms Young says.

‘We don’t want to set students up to fail. In order to be a really credible alternative to A-Levels we need that rigour. If you allow students onto T-Levels when they haven’t got what they need, you are doing them a disservice in the long term.

‘You need to be knowledgeable and passionate to work in childcare - the best people should be doing it.’

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