With Degree Apprenticeships (DAs) a relatively new addition (launched in 2015) it is timely that Government have invited views as to how best we can continue to optimise the programme.
It is clear that DAs have a key role to play in delivering high quality vocational and technical education in England. This is particularly the case as we continue to recover from Covid-19 and the fallout from Brexit; DAs will play an important role in meeting the requirements of employers and supplying the economy with the skills it needs to improve productivity.
While we support many of the changes proposed by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), we believe that more can still be done to strengthen the programme.
High quality, integrated on-and off-the-job elements should be a crucial element of Degree Apprenticeships. This should also include time for reflection on development and progress
However, the level of current off-the-job training in English apprenticeships is low against international benchmarks and the standards are narrow, with a lack of transferable skills (Our Plan, 2019). “Off the job” training does not just need to be narrowly confined to academic settings - we should integrate broader “off the job” opportunities to broaden transferable skills. For example in Germany, employers provide training to apprentices in workshops and centres away from the shop floor, in addition to the day a week that apprentices spend in vocational schools.
We would also propose more qualitative measurements of ‘off-the-job’ training, which should include time for reflection, and development. Employers, providers and students should work more closely together to ensure that continues feedback sits at the heart of learning so that apprentices can reinforce, stretch and evaluate progress continuously. Roles and responsibilities should also be set out clearly between the employer, apprentice and training provider with a clear and jointly agreed development plan.
The role of a mentor should also be more significant, as per examples in Jersey, where apprentices are given a dedicated, qualified mentor [from the training provider] to coach, support and guide them through their apprenticeship.
Questioning the purpose and necessity of End Point Assessments
There is certainly a clear case for some end point assessment (EPAs) to ensure that apprentices can bring together everything they have learned. However, separate or poorly designed end-point assessments have been described as inadequate for overall assessment of higher-level apprenticeships. There is also concern that DAs should include more stepping-off points where learners can leave with a level 4 or 5 qualification, with the opportunity of re-joining the apprenticeship later or using it to move to an adjacent field.
Not everything needs to hang on to the set of tests or examinations at the end, creating a similar level of pressure to high stakes tests in the academic route. So, this should be an opportunity to rethink the purpose and necessity of EPAs.
Instead, learning from high quality technical education systems such as Finland, the units of apprenticeship training could instead be distinct modules, each ending in a proportionate end point assessment enabling apprentices to ‘bank’ individual units and get each module signed off.
We should also seize this opportunity to consider prior learning, and allow those with relevant experience to fast track. For example, the Graduate Apprenticeship model in Scotland offers flexible entry and exit points, offering ‘recognition of prior learning’ (RPL) to take into account previous qualifications, skills and experiences. This offers an attractive option for new and existing learners, enabling those with relevant prior experience to complete the apprenticeship qualification more quickly.
Greater clarity around the language of ‘Degree Apprenticeships’ and ‘Degree Level Apprenticeships’
Greater distinction is needed between the terms ‘Degree Apprenticeships’ and ‘Degree Level apprenticeships’. For clarity, ‘Degree Apprenticeships’ should have a degree awarded as part of its qualification, while ‘Degree Level Apprenticeships’ do not have a degree award attached to them. However, this is not to devalue the alternative qualifications Degree Level Apprenticeships may offer, and they should still enable learners to progress to a level of education similar to that of degree level at level 6.
Greater collaboration between employers, training providers and apprentices, with roles and responsibilities clarified
We would argue that greater collaboration is still needed across employers, apprenticeships and training providers, and there is much we can learn from the Graduate Apprenticeship programme in Scotland. For example, Scotland’s new industry-led development model brings together employers, apprentices, trade unions and industry representatives to understand both current and future work needs. This cross-collaboration ensures that Graduate Apprenticeships are aligned to the realities of work and supported by strong standards and clear objectives.