I am delighted to have been invited to write a series of articles for Association of Colleges members – thank you for the invitation and I look forward to learning more through the experience.
I became the Institute’s first Chief Operating Officer two years ago having been the British Army's Personnel Director – which involved leading on apprenticeships, individual training of all forms and wider education. At the Institute, I oversee the operational teams that deliver apprenticeship standards and technical qualifications, including T Levels. An important part of my job is to understand the perspective of the different groups involved with skills training and, to this end, I hope that this column will quickly evolve into a conversation.
The Institute was created in 2017 to harness the knowledge and dynamism of employers in the determination of the content of apprenticeships and technical qualifications. Despite our name, we are not a one-stop shop for apprenticeships or technical education. Our role is focused on employers – who we convene to write, approve and curate apprenticeship standards. These have three elements: the knowledge, skills and behaviours that have to be mastered to achieve occupational competence; an end point assessment (EPA) that confirms this; and advice on the maximum funding band that is appropriate. The Institute is also responsible for the external quality assurance (EQA) of apprenticeships, so there is a closed loop with ensuring that they are meeting employers’ needs.
With regard to T levels, we also bring employers together to write the technical qualification that lies at the heart of the qualification. This comprises a broad ‘core component’ which gives the learner an overview of key aspects of a sector and an ‘occupational specialism’ which provides specialist training for a particular occupation. Students will also learn relevant maths, English and digital skills. Despite the challenging circumstances of the moment, T Levels are forging ahead. It is notably uplifting to see the first wave now in the hands of colleges, as well as the other providers, and it will be fantastic to see the first three T Levels come to life for delivery from September this year.
A huge amount of our time is currently occupied with supporting the sector through the fallout from Covid-19. We are doing all we can to provide regular updates and extensive guidance. A significant shift of approach has been required to allow for more remote training, assessment and external quality assurance (EQA), while maintaining quality and protecting the apprenticeship brand. We have approved more than 100 temporary flexibilities for how EPA is delivered to date. These are detailed along with frequently asked questions on our website.
We recognise that there is more to be done to keep the system moving and are continuing to work with EPA organisations to identify where other flexibilities are needed. In doing so, we have been careful to ensure quality is not compromised. I recognise that some would wish us to go further, including to the extent of taking an estimation approach, so I will return to this in my next column.
Whilst recognising the difficulties and that some apprentices will not be able to complete their apprenticeship in the current circumstances, it is good to see that many are able to see their apprenticeship through to the end. Thank you for all the work that is going into this and the feedback from apprentices and employers on remote assessments carried out so far has been really positive.
So, having provided a broad overview in this initial article, my intention will be to go into more detail on apprenticeship flexibilities, recovery planning, and T levels in the coming weeks. Thanks again for all the great work that is being done to overcome the current challenging circumstances. We will continue to do all we can to support the sector and prepare apprenticeships to support the national recovery as we emerge from lockdown. And please feel free to get in touch.
By Rob Nitsch, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education