Active Learning, material variations, off the job training planning and reconciliation
Following on from our summary of the learning support review requirements, we’re continuing our round up of the valuable insights from David Lockhart-Hawkins’ most recent webinar with us. Here, we’re looking at the recent funding changes made in a number of on-programme areas.
While the volume of change in this recent update may seem a little overwhelming, rest assured. The Bud system is designed to provide everything you need to remain compliant, without fear of overclaiming funding or experiencing issues with audit. Here we’ve tried to break down the information to provide some key areas to focus on.
Updates to breaks in learning guidance
The recent update has clarified previously unclear statements around when and whether a learner is eligible for funding.
The new rules state that an apprentice must be involved in “active learning” throughout their apprenticeship. This necessitated that when they are inactive for 4 weeks, a break in learning may need to be recorded – note: this may or may not also be a break from work.
It’s thought that auditors are likely to view 4-week gaps as funding risks, prompting them to seek clarification or evidence to show what the apprentice was doing during the time window and this really will be a test of how a provider is aware of the development activities of the apprentice, how they are learning and developing knowledge, skill and behaviours (KSBs).
If there is a break in learning this still must be agreed up front, by both the apprentice and the employer. But if they are disengaged from developing knowledge, skills and behaviours (or KSBs), they are deemed inactive. This requires a good understanding of what KSBs look like on your programme and what you expect to see from participants in order to demonstrate progress or activity.
Matt Wood, Funding and ILR Product Owner at Bud said “Of course, this rule change leads to questions of definition and application of this rule, but in principle the renewed focus on learner activity could actually benefit you as a provider. Data and reporting tools – such as those available in Bud – can keep track of activity, engagement and reduced participation, and they should allow for early identification of struggling learners. This in turn will allow you to offer support and ultimately improve the chances of programme completion.”
David has suggested there may be a further policy update on off the job training on the requirement for evidence of activity, but in the meantime the definition is open to debate.
The most obvious view is that the apprentice must be involved in developing knowledge, skills or behaviours relative to the standard. This may be on the job, off the job or even block release. They may be employer or tutor-directed or naturally occurring, and they will certainly vary from industry to industry. This means of course that capturing and evidencing engagement will be different from one provider to the next.
As a rule of thumb, aim to check that there is some form of engagement in developing a competence in one of the KSBs at least once per month. And in terms of evidencing this, use the data at your disposal.
In Bud, for instance, there are numerous reports available to you through Power BI, which will give you a clear picture of the last points of engagement of individual learners. These may be learner-led activities such as log-ins to access learning resources, participation in classes, progress reviews, 121 engagements or submissions. Multiple data points can help to build a picture of activity and can be compared against the level or frequency with which you would expect them to occur.
It’s worth remembering that with any break the learner must actualise the planned off the job hours somewhere – so if they’re falling behind or have a break it will materially impact the expected completion date. This may require amendment to the apprenticeship agreement as well as to the commitment statement.
As a rule of thumb, David suggests flagging gaps of more than 2 weeks within your platform so that 4 weeks of inactivity shouldn’t become a problem or a surprise. Intervention can then occur from 2 weeks of no engagement, subject to whatever your delivery model is.
With this increased focus on learner activity comes a need to know what your learners are supposed to be doing versus what they’re actually doing at any given time.
Of course, there is the question of whether they are “in learning”. But once it’s been established that they are active, it’s vital to understand more about their rate of learning, how they’re learning and to ensure the records are in place to support this.
The rule introduced last year states that at gateway the actual off the job hours must be equal or more than the planned off the job hours as per the original ILR, commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement. If this is not the case, it’s deemed a material variation and requires an employer and apprentice countersigned statement showing they were satisfied with the adjustment.
Changes have been made to this requirement again for 21/22. But this signed statement remains a key part of the gateway process, and completion funds are likely at risk if you don’t have it (and actual hours are less than planned).
When might a material variation occur?
As with many elements, the rules do not make it completely clear what is meant by a ‘material variation’, but David suggests a simple way to think of this is a reasonable change to the planned method or model of delivery. This usually results in a change in off the job hours. So either a programme is going to be shorter or longer than originally planned, or composed differently.
In almost every case when this occurs you’ll need to arrange a signed agreement by both the apprentice and the employer to ensure your evidence pack meets requirements. This might be because the learner needs longer to get through the programme, resulting in a change to the original planned end date. Or the method of delivery might change (for instance, moving online due to the pandemic), or more or less work may be required due to factors such as a misidentification of prior learning.
Where the learner actualises less off the job training simply because they were faster through the original programme, this is not deemed a material variation. A statement at gateway would be required stating the reason for this, i.e. a high calibre apprentice, fewer curriculum hours due to more efficient delivery, or existing prior learning that wasn’t identified.
David’s general advice is that material variations are something to build controls for in your progress review process. The best way to do this is to introduce a flag asking for consideration of any material changes, thus allowing update and re-agreement of commitment statements and apprenticeship agreement in a timely fashion.
Off the job training planning
Perhaps due to the recognition that off the job training is difficult to effectively monitor and manage, the updated funding rules reflect a need for more attention in this area, notably requiring a renewed awareness of quantity and composition when it comes to provision of evidence.
Now it’s a requirement to have a clear plan and, for 2021-22, a schedule for how off the job hours will be implemented. Providers are expected to understand their curriculum and the hours needed through effective initial assessment and then monitor its implementation. It’s crucial, also, that they gain a full understanding of which types of activities can be included. It’s worth noting that activities taking place prior to the start date as well as those required for EPA must not be included.
David suggests composition of off the job will be one of the most common errors we see, as providers currently tend to focus purely on the total off the job hours implemented – rather than looking at where they were spent.
By including unclaimable activities within the off the job percentage, providers could easily have a false sense that an apprentice has met their off the job requirement and in worst instances suggest they did not have sufficient learning need to start with (if processed to gateway with less than 20% actual off the job hours), meaning risk of full overclaim and be left with a compliance issue and a potential funding gap. Reconciling hours may be tricky, but it’s an important aspect and one for which you will need to develop a process, as this requirement is unlikely to go away any time soon.
Matt Wood, Funding and ILR Product Owner at Bud said “The important thing here is to understand which types of off the job hours can be included, setting out with a plan and reviewing it before your learners reach the gateway. There are plenty of data views and reports available in Bud and Power BI to allow analysis and reconciliation of actual hours versus planned – as well as to get a holistic view of whether the curriculum is designed in the most effective way. Where off the job hours are different than planned, ensure you follow the correct process for sign off. And where less hours are actualised, ensure you determine the reason (again Bud data can help), and you will happily meet all compliance requirements in this area.”
Want to understand more about how Bud can help to support you with compliance and regulatory requirements related to new funding changes? Get in touch to book a demo.
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