Why a robust initial assessment is vital for a successful apprenticeship

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Every apprenticeship has a number of key elements that training providers need to get right, from learner engagement to off-the-job training. But the success of these elements often depends on how effective your initial assessment is.

An initial assessment takes place before an apprenticeship begins, and measures the apprentice’s competence through recognition of prior learning (RPL) and experience.

It’s designed to ensure that the apprentice is on the correct level of programme and fully eligible, as well as checking for English and maths skills and any additional support that might be required during the apprenticeship.

Why is the initial assessment so important?

A robust initial assessment provides insight into an individual’s prior learning and experience. By identifying a prospective apprentice’s existing knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs), you can establish the starting point or baseline for each apprentice.

The initial assessment is so important because it affects every element of the learner’s journey, from the curriculum you deliver to the length of time on programme and the funding that can be drawn down for delivery. It allows you to create a tailored training plan and set realistic expectations for both the learner and their employer.

Above all, initial assessments help you to make sure that they’re on the correct level of programme and that it’s relevant to their job role and serves a productive purpose. If they’re not, there’s a higher likelihood of learner disengagement and withdrawal.

Bud is integrated with initial assessment and cognitive assessment solutions, as well as the learner record service to create a streamlined, end-to-end process. Find out more by booking a free demo.

Creating the foundation for high-quality apprenticeships

As outlined by the Department for Education, the initial assessment creates the foundation for a high-quality apprenticeship programme for each key party:

  • The apprentice benefits from a training plan that fits their individual training needs and provides them with the most effective route through their learning journey
  • The training provider can deliver a more tailored learning experience, ensuring trainer time is spent efficiently and apprentices stay engaged and complete the programme in a timely manner
  • The employer ensures training programmes address their company’s specific needs and apprentices finish the programmes with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed

Recognising prior learning and experience

The apprenticeship funding rules define prior learning and experience as the following:

  • Prior education, training or associated qualifications in a related subject sector area, including any previous apprenticeships the learner has undertaken
  • Learning or competence gained from prior work experience, particularly where the apprentice is an existing employee or is beginning their apprenticeship after completing another programme with a relevant work placement

Checking for English and maths

Part of the initial assessment is to recognise prior learning and to assess any additional learning needs that may indicate the need for extra support in English and maths. This is a key area for Ofsted, as we see the long-term impact on education after the pandemic.

As Ofsted's Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman highlighted in her speech at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference earlier this year, these functional skills are critical for every level and subject.

“Just think of all the subjects that you teach and all the different ways that you use English and maths every day.

“Care apprentices need to measure medicines accurately. Hospitality apprentices need to measure ingredients and calculate portion sizes. Business analyst apprentices need to interpret data and client requirements. Management apprentices need to communicate with their teams, write job specifications and create marketing materials. The list goes on,” she said.

Amanda also emphasised that functional skills tests are summative tests, not diagnostic assessments. They may not effectively identify what learners need to be taught, so it’s vital for providers to assess skills properly to establish the real baseline, rather than simply helping them to pass an assessment.

The following questions will be useful:

  • Are you identifying apprentices’ starting points when they begin their training?
  • Are you using the information you gather to plan a suitable curriculum?
  • Are English and maths teachers working with vocational trainers to help apprentices learn these skills in a way that’s relevant to their other training?

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s not just younger apprentices or those at lower levels who will need support with English and maths. Amanda added in her speech:

“We recently visited a police constabulary that was training police community support officers as part of a level 4 apprenticeship. Those apprentices did need to be taught spelling and grammar because their notes and statements weren’t always fit to be used as evidence in court.”

Identifying additional learning needs

Many apprentices who require additional learning support won’t declare their additional needs when applying for a placement. Initial assessments should explore learners’ individual requirements so you can develop a plan where needed for Additional Learning Support (ALS).

As part of this assessment, you should consider both diagnosed and undiagnosed learning and development disabilities, mental health requirements, safeguarding needs and economic factors.

Read the government guidance on learning support funding for apprentices, or find out more about how claiming ALS improves support for learners.

Bud’s workflows have strengthened our compliance and reduced the risk associated with funding queries because paperwork has been reduced and data accuracy substantially improved.

Tom Bartlett, Chief Operating Officer at Crosby Management Training

Staying compliant with ESFA funding rules

Conducting a robust initial assessment is also critical for compliance. The ESFA’s funding rules state that “funds must not be used to pay for training for knowledge, skills and behaviours already attained by the apprentice, and we will take action to recover apprenticeship funding where this happens.”

The ESFA will expect you to have assessed every learner’s prior learning and experience, evidenced the results and altered the funding you claim as a result. The funding rules outline the following steps:

  1. Check the individual’s personal learning record (if available) to identify relevant qualifications
  2. Conduct a skills scan against the KSBs of the proposed apprenticeship standard
  3. Summarise the impact of the prior learning assessment, including whether and by how much the apprenticeship content and duration has been reduced
  4. Calculate the reduction in funding and time on programme

If it’s relevant or required by the standard, the skills scan can be supplemented with additional diagnostic testing of either occupational competence or English and maths attainment.

Building up the big picture

Bud helps you to build up the evidence, or big picture needed for the ESFA, checking which KSBs have already been attained so you can make the relevant reduction in time on programme and funding.

Among other things, Bud’s initial assessment discussion will prompt you to confirm that:

  • The applicant has completed their skills scan to assess their competence against KSBs
  • Whether significant new KSBs are required for them to be occupationally competent in their job role
  • The results of the skills scan have been discussed with and agreed by the employer
  • An apprenticeship is on the most appropriate training for the applicant
  • The training programme aligns with an apprenticeship standard at the appropriate level

Want to streamline your training delivery and minimise compliance risks? See Bud in action – request a free demo here.