In our first ‘Ask The Expert’ webinar, we had industry expert Tony Allen sit down with Danny Taylor and answer your questions around Ofsted and Apprenticeships. This quick-fire roundup will cover all the questions asked that were to do with Compliance.
Q: What are your views regarding DBS checks and the requirements when working with apprentices in training, as they are in basic, standard, enhanced or enhanced with child barring checks.
I always say when you can, go for enhanced DBS checks. You may discover that it's not always possible to have enhanced checks. Sometimes, the organisations will not allow you to once you have described what the person does. Sometimes, if there is no direct contact with learners, with young people, they will only do a standard check.
So that decision may be taken out of your hands, but when you can, always go for an enhanced check. It goes into more depth quite clearly, and ultimately, I just think it's better insurance, it's better coverage, and you can be much more confident about the outcome. A standard check is fine, particularly if you have somebody who is always office-based, does not actually ever go near a learner, and you want to cover your whole organisation. But where you can, I would always go for enhanced.
Q: Can projects for a portfolio for submission to EPA, done while in the practical period, be used as evidence of off-the-job learning? It is not new learning but does form part of the apprenticeship requirements. So, surely, we should not be penalising apprentices who are new to the role and getting mixed messages from people. So, some clarification around that would be great.
My view of this is yes. The funding rules specifically say that time spent writing assignments is allowable and perfectly valid off-the-job activity. And I would say, to my mind, it falls into the same category. I think just to enhance the process you need to be encouraging your learners to be reflecting on their learning, as well as just writing something standard down. In other words, get them not just to repeat what they have done, but write what they have learned and how it applies to them in the workplace, which is what they should be doing for a good portfolio. That then certainly fits in terms of new knowledge. That ‘new knowledge’ part is an unfortunate phrase because that's only one third of what's in an Apprenticeship Standard. It needs to demonstrate new skills and behaviours, where the learners are thinking and reflecting as to how they have implemented that activity in the workplace.
So yes, I would be happy and confident that is a perfectly valid approach and yes, you can count it as far as I am concerned.
Q: If you use transcription and recording, would that be sufficient evidence?
I believe that there is no need to have a separate document. I know of a training provider who has recently received a good outcome from a full inspection from Ofsted. They used transcription, which was uploaded to their system. They used video recording, which was uploaded to their system and then at the end, after each progress review, they send an email to the learner and line manager with the targets and the activities that they expect that learner to achieve over the next period.
Their progress reviews are completed every six weeks. At the end of the progress review, the email says ‘thanks for a great review, this is what we agreed you will do over the next six weeks.’ Then there is a list of agreed SMART actions and also a summary of the learner progress, something like, ‘so, at the moment you are on plan to achieve your apprenticeship by the agreed date, or you are not because your off-the-job hours are behind. You have not done this activity from last time, you have not done that, etc.’ The e-mail obviously gets sent to the learner and the line manager, who are asked to respond by way of confirming (or effectively signing) that it took place, and that also gets uploaded onto the system.
They have just three pieces of evidence, the transcription, the recording, and the e-mail. Ofsted were more than happy with that. What a lot of our providers will do, if they are using things like transcription and recordings, is they will do a summary of the action plan that drops out of that review. They will cut and paste from the transcription onto the digital template on Smart Assessor. That is also a way of capturing those tripartite signatures on the reviews.
You can certainly use a template, and as I said earlier, if you get your assessors to use it to summarise at the end of every subject they are going to talk about, they then cut and paste that onto the template form, which you can then use for signature purposes. You do not have to have a mound of paper. If you use transcription and recording, it can replace paper, and save time too.
Q: I notice that revision is now an allowable off the job activity. Where is it relevant for the Apprenticeship Standard? Is this being applied retrospectively to all earners?
No. I could end the question there! So, just to be clear about this, if you go back to 22/23 year, i.e., the year that ended on the 31st of July 2023, exam revision was not allowed as an off-the-job activity for 22/23.
For new learners, it is now allowed where it is relevant within the Apprenticeship Standards, so you can count it. That has been a complete change of rule, so just be aware of that. However, in the funding rules for 23/24 where that change is flagged, it does not say that the change is retrospective to all learners, so it is not retrospective. Unless the funding rules tell you that a rule applies before the 1st of August, then the rule does not apply before the 1st of August. There is nowhere in the 23/24 funding rules that tells you that exam revision is being applied retrospectively. So no, it does not apply to learners on programmes before the 1st of August this year.
Q: Can you confirm requirements for a break in learning?
First of all, you can have a break in learning fairly typically when the learner is going to be off for a long period of time. The funding rules for 23/24 have now changed a little bit in terms of giving us a month and not just four weeks. So, you will remember that in 22/23 they introduced the concept where, if there was no learning activity within a four-week period, you have to put the learner on the break-in-learning.
I, and a number of others, pointed out the nonsense around that by saying if you had learner input on the 1st of the month and on the 30th of the month it meant that because there was a
29-day gap, you should therefore put that learner retrospectively on a break-in-learning. This appeared to me to be nonsense. At least the agency has seen that as nonsense and has changed it this year from 28 days to a calendar month, so that's fine. That ties it in with the ILR. So, first of all, if there's no activity in a month, that learner is supposed to go on a break-in-learning for that period of time. That may have to be retrospective because by the time you've put them on the break-in-learning, they may be back learning again! If we look at the original reasons for a break-in-learning, they are all about people who are likely to be out of their apprenticeship for a long time. Long term sickness, maternity, paternity, issues in the business that have meant they cannot carry on their studies. They’re still the predominant reasons for a break-in-learning. So, it's good practice to agree that with the learner, employer and training provider, so everybody's happy that the learner is going to be off. Never undertake a break-in-learning lightly, apart from the fact you don't get paid when on a break-in-learning, the real challenge is how do you bring them back into learning after a long period of time off. From a practical viewpoint, if you have a cohort delivery model, and let’s assume that you've got 20 learners all chugging along at the same time, all with their individual training plans, but broadly following the same programme, and one of them goes on a break-in-learning for six months. How do you reintegrate that person into that cohort? The answer is usually you can't because they have moved on. Your learner has a six-month gap and of course, when they come back, you have to re-do the training plan, the apprenticeship agreement, all of that has to be re-done, resigned, because that learner is going to be following a new path. So do not underestimate those challenges of bringing learners back in. It is generally true that the leaver rate for people who have been on a break-in-learning is higher than those who have never been on a break-in-learning, because of the problems in reintegrating them into the programme.
So, it's very, very difficult. Sometimes you have to give a break-in-learning, but never be too generous in doing that. Always explore other ways of trying to help and support the learner if you can.
Be sure to check out our other upcoming Ofsted & Apprenticeships Ask the Expert blogs that we will be publishing throughout the week, to see further questions that were asked to Tony Allen.
If you are an apprenticeship provider and want to discover how Advanced can help you, why not check out our apprenticeship eportfolio?