What is the apprenticeship accountability framework and how does it impact providers?

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The apprenticeship accountability framework is used to review the quality of apprenticeship provision of all ages. It can help training providers assess their own performance, identify potential issues and make improvements.

The framework was first introduced in April 2022 and is overseen by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

It aims to provide a more rounded assessment of performance through multiple quality measures. This comes off the back of 2021’s RoATP refresh and its new application process, which requires greater depth of information than previously on how training providers plan to deliver apprenticeship training and monitor learner progress.

The framework’s five key principles

The objective of the framework is to improve the overall standard of apprenticeships, so that apprentices have a high-quality experience and gain the necessary skills to progress into further learning or a successful career.

It’s designed around the following principles:

1. Data driven

The framework introduces a wide range of quality indicators to create a more complete overview of a providers’ delivery standards.

2. Risk based

The quality indicators will act as triggers to review the performance of providers that fall below the thresholds. There will be a focus on providers where there’s a higher propensity of quality issues, so assessors can intervene and help to drive improvements.

The focus on overall risk means that failing to meet one threshold won’t necessarily trigger a management conversation or intervention. For example, if a provider has an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade but is below the threshold on another quality indicator, the ESFA may decide they are low risk and that they have the capacity to make improvements without further action.

3. Encourage self-improvement

By identifying and flagging risks to quality early on, providers can take steps to improve before there’s an impact on apprentices.

4. Timeliness

The ESFA will monitor performance data throughout the academic year, and they expect providers to follow the same review process internally. This should ensure any necessary conversations or interventions happen quickly to avoid a decline in standards.

5. Proportionality

Any interventions will only be made as a result of a management conversation and won’t be automatic. The actions taken to support providers will also be proportionate to the quality issue, i.e., interventions will directly target a particular aspect of provision that is low quality.

Quality indicators for providers

The framework clearly sets out a number of quality indicators for training providers. As highlighted in the framework, these indicators will be continually monitored and you may be contacted at any point in the academic year if you don’t meet the threshold.

The quality indicators and thresholds include:

  • Ofsted inspection results
  • Apprenticeship achievement and retention rates
  • Employer feedback (collected through the find apprenticeship training service)
  • Apprentice feedback (as of 12/04/23, no threshold for this has been set)
  • Off-the-job training
  • Number of withdrawals, apprentices past their planned end date and apprentices on a break in learning
  • End-point assessment organisation data

It’s important to be aware that the thresholds reflect the ESFA’s minimum expectations and shouldn’t be used as targets. You can read more information about each indicator and threshold here.

What to expect from interventions

If data shows that the quality of delivery isn’t up to scratch, management will be contacted and asked to take relevant action. If the ESFA still has concerns after this conversation, they may intervene to help providers make the necessary improvements.

The type of intervention will be based on a number of factors, including previous performance, level of risk and individual circumstances.

Types of interventions include:

  • Enhanced monitoring, which could require providers to produce a quality improvement plan and attend regular meetings to discuss progress
  • Conditions of funding and additional contractual obligations, which could include improvement targets and restrictions on recruitment of new apprentices
  • Contract termination, if data shows you’re at continued risk of delivering poor-quality provision

Contextual factors and benchmarking

The pandemic and cost of living crisis have had a huge impact on training provision over the last three years, leaving many providers struggling to balance high-quality delivery with sharply rising costs.

The good news is that the apprenticeship accountability framework will take contextual factors into account when deciding on any intervention action. This includes benchmarking your achievement rates against providers delivering similar apprenticeships or in similar sectors.

Other contextual factors are:

  • Apprentices with protected characteristics, who may have “a greater distance to travel” to achieve full competence
  • Ongoing economic pressures, e.g. inflation
  • Size of cohort and maturity of apprenticeship provision
  • Data timeliness and accuracy

What the framework means for providers

The apprenticeship accountability framework makes the criteria for high-quality provision more transparent. However, it also places providers under greater scrutiny – performance data will be continually monitored and providers will need to be proactive about their own self-improvement.

It’s more important than ever to have visibility over learner progress and in-depth insight into every area of provision. Your organisation’s data also needs to be accurately maintained and kept up to date, so you can ensure the ESFA has the latest information on apprentices at any moment.

Read more: An insider’s guide to an ESFA audit

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