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Summer reflections

30 September 2020

Despite the threat of a second wave with COVID-19, the enthusiasm and commitment as everyone returns from their summer breaks is palpable. It was announced in July that higher technical qualifications (HTQs) at level 4 and 5 would receive a new quality mark from the Institute from September 2022, in the form of a digital pathfinder. As with our existing processes for apprenticeships and T Levels, employers will be the central element of the approvals process. We have recently set out the supporting process and criteria and also opened the application window. In getting to this position, we have taken on board the views of training providers and the Association of Colleges and it is our intention to evolve the arrangements, as needed, as we move through the coming year. This is an exciting development for the Institute and a continuance of the government’s commitment to furthering the employer voice in the specification of vocational education outputs; a third step after the introduction of apprenticeship standards and T Levels. The Institute has also announced that we will retain assessment flexibilities, which have allowed thousands of people to complete apprenticeships in spite of COVID-19, into the new year; these have been rolled out for more than 100 standards since lockdown. In most cases they have allowed for high quality remote rather than face-to-face assessment. Our approach to the flexibilities will have several strands. Firstly, we are looking at those with no or low take up to understand why this is the case. Secondly we will look at those flexibilities which are an improvement and therefore need to be retained. Only then, and towards the end of the calendar year, will we be looking at those that do not amount to an improvement and beginning to assess when it is right to remove them – we sense that this will be economy and sector dependent – and may well stretch well into the future. Over the summer, the Institute also confirmed that we will be moving to a new simplified external quality assurance (EQA) system. EQA will still be delivered within the Institute’s framework; the changes will see EQA delivered by Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS) with the Institute retaining oversight of the system. We anticipate that the migration will be complete by summer 2022, which leaves a lot to be done. Ofqual anticipate that the migration will begin in the coming months and will be working hard to ensure that end point assessment organisations are expedited through accreditation where it is necessary. The plans have been informed by the responses to our consultation and have really helped inform our thinking. Coming through strongly was the need to retain the employer voice and we are now preparing a proposal for an employer directory, or pool, which will support Ofqual and OfS with contemporary employer advice and insight. Our firm priority going forward will be to ensure that the resulting system works better for everyone. In addition, work continues to develop a more transparent and robust funding band calculation in response to the strong commentary that employers and providers do not understand how funding decisions for apprenticeships are reached through the current system. Our first consultation, held between February and May, set out our core proposed model and asked for views on addressing differences in costs. We then used feedback from respondents to develop a single approach that provides trailblazers with an early estimate of the maximum government funding level their apprenticeship stands to receive. The new development is that, if a trailblazer considers this funding level to be inappropriate, under the updated planned model, they can provide information for a bespoke estimate of likely eligible costs. We are now consulting on this revised model - the consultation on this closes at midnight on 6 October. We are really keen to get as may responses as possible, especially as this is likely to be the final consultation opportunity – so please do encourage a response if you are able. We plan to begin piloting that revised model once we have assessed responses, with a view to moving to an improved system in the first half of 2021. And to finish on a most significant achievement, it is fantastic to see the first young learners starting T Levels, albeit we are already thinking about the arrangements that might need to be put in place to mitigate disruption as a result of the pandemic. Wave 2 content is also nearing completion and we remain committed to getting the final products to providers as quickly as possible. Announcements will also be made about the awarding organisations that have won the Wave 3 contracts in the very near future. It’s clearly going to be a challenging autumn and winter but we are focused on continuing to keep things moving forward and remain very grateful to the many stakeholders who are still prepared to help us to improve and enable our work. Rob Nitsch is the Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education