When you think of apprenticeships and the difference they make to people’s lives, you probably don’t think the initial assessment is the most important part. You’re probably thinking about when learners reach milestones, achieve 100% progression or complete their end-point assessment. You might even be thinking about funding reports, learner outcomes or Ofsted inspections. These are all major parts of the apprenticeship journey, so why do we think the initial assessment is the most important part – even though it takes place before the apprenticeship even begins?
During the initial assessment, the training provider needs to assess the apprentice’s prior learning to find their starting point or baseline. This meeting tells the provider whether the apprenticeship is appropriate for that individual and gives them the insights they need to continue with the apprenticeship delivery. The insights gained in the initial assessment impact the whole apprenticeship journey – curriculum delivery, distance travelled, milestones, ESFA funding, Ofsted inspections – and that’s why we think it’s the most important part.
Recognition of prior learning (RPL)
The initial assessment gives providers the opportunity to complete the RPL – establish the apprentice’s starting point. When you know the starting point, you can personalise your curriculum delivery to make sure the apprentice is covering all the KSBs in the standard without repeating learning.
For example, if two learners are starting a hairdressing apprenticeship and one has already worked in a salon on a Saturday speaking to clients, sweeping up, washing hair, taking payment and the other one has no experience, you wouldn’t want them to start at the same basic level. The provider can use the initial assessment to find their starting points and personalise the curriculum to suit each apprentice.
Planning off-the-job training
When providers have completed the recognition of prior learning with their apprentice, they’ll have some insight into the expected duration of the apprenticeship – a learner with no prior learning is expected to take longer than a learner with some experience.
When you know the expected duration of the course – for example, 15 months – you can then calculate how many contracted hours they’ll complete on programme. And from that, you can work out how many hours they’ll need to spend learning off the job to meet the 20% minimum requirement. It sounds complicated like this – but without the insights from the initial assessment, it would be impossible.
Set, meet and reward milestones
All apprentices have to work towards milestones throughout their programme – and these milestones need to be agreed, captured and monitored by the provider. But apprentices with different prior learning will have different starting points and need different milestones.
A milestone for one apprentice might be a walk in the park – while for another, it’s a big achievement. You need the insights gained from the initial assessment to set appropriate milestones for each apprentice and give them the reward they deserve.
This is a big one. The ESFA says; ‘Apprenticeship funding should not be used to pay for, or accredit, existing knowledge, skills and behaviours.’ This means the ESFA expects providers to assess every apprentice’s prior learning and reduce how much funding they claim accordingly.
If the ESFA find that providers have overclaimed for an apprentice or have not fully accounted for prior learning, they can claw funding back – which is worrying. In the 2 years from May 2017 to May 2019, only 5% of apprenticeship funding claims were adjusted to account for prior learning and millions has already been clawed back from providers during ESFA audits.
The solution? A rigorous initial assessment to establish prior learning and adjust funding claims.
Ofsted wants providers to deliver a tailored programme of learning for each apprentice – and to do this, you need to find out their starting point in the initial assessment. This makes sure apprentices aren’t going over old ground and helps tutors identify areas for stretch and challenge – which is what Ofsted wants to see. Ofsted also wants to see the distance travelled by each apprentice – and to demonstrate that, you need to know their starting point.
Without the initial assessment, apprenticeships just wouldn’t work. Tutors wouldn’t know how to personalise their curriculum delivery to the individual. Apprentices wouldn’t know their distance travelled – which could impact Ofsted ratings. And providers would be at risk of having their funding clawed back. The initial assessment is small but mighty, so it needs to be taken seriously.
The ESFA hasn’t stated exactly how a provider should assess or determine prior learning – just that it must be done and the findings must be taken account of. This leaves the initial assessment process open to interpretation – so we want to know how you’re doing it.
To join the conversation, please complete this short survey about initial assessment. It’ll only take a few minutes and will help us understand how the sector is interpreting initial assessment – arguably the most important part of an apprenticeship.