There is no running away from the fact that apprenticeships have had to change quite a lot since the start of the pandemic. The Institute for Apprenticeships were very quick to take action to ensure the minimum level of disruption possible for learners. They tried to strike a balance between recognising that in some organisations apprentices could continue to be trained and assessed remotely, whilst in others pausing the training was the only option. That is why so many various flexibilities were introduced, to cater for all eventualities.
Breaks In Learning
Originally, back in March 2020 when the pandemic had just started, the Institute allowed a break in learning or the pause of an EPA of up to 12 weeks. As things unravelled, it was soon clear that the pandemic was going to be a lot longer-term so these time restrictions were removed. EPAs now either need to be rescheduled, or if a break in learning is going to be longer than 4 weeks, this must be reported to the relevant EPAO.
Assessments Move To Remote
Where face-to-face engagement is required for an End Point Assessment, these can now be carried out remotely. However there are some conditions that need to be met, such as ensuring an invigilator is present, and the apprentice’s identity has to be verified. These measures have been put in place to prevent plagiarism or cheating. Of course if assessments can still be carried out face-to-face with the correct COVID-prevention measures in place, this is preferable.
General Flexibilities For All Standards
When it comes to EPA there is usually a set order of assessment methods that have to be followed (which are outlined within the individual assessment plans). One of the flexibilities introduced was that this set order could be relaxed. Firstly, the gateway sign-off can be carried out remotely as long as the apprentice, employer and training provider are all in agreement.
Usually, there is then a time limit of how long an apprentice can stay in the gateway phase before progressing to their EPA. One of the flexibilities introduced means that this time limit can be extended if required due to COVID. This is at the discretion of the EPAO, until it is safe for the practical assessment to take place. Discussions will need to take place between the EPAO, employer and apprentice to determine when will be safe to carry on.
Assessments can also be carried out in suitable alternative venues, including an apprentice’s home if the EPAO considers this to be ok. The environment must be checked in advance to ensure it is secure and suitable for conducting the EPA, and the assessment will also need to be invigilated. The invigilators must meet the usual dependence criteria, which includes the following:
- They must attend training as required by the EPAO.
- They must have no direct connection or conflict of interest with either the apprentice, employer or training provider.
- They must invigilate and supervise apprentices in any breaks carried out during the assessment.
If an assessment needs to be carried out face-to-face, this can be done remotely using video conferencing software. There are a few things that need to be factored into this though:
- The external quality assurance provider (EQAP) must have agreed to these arrangements in advance.
- The apprentice’s identity has been verified by the EPAO or the independent Assessor.
- An invigilator is present to supervise the apprentice.
- The impact of the current climate is taken into account to ensure a fair and reliable assessment of occupational competence.
Extension To Flexibilities
The latest update from the Institute for Apprenticeships states that apprenticeship flexibilities are to be extended until at least the end of August 2021. This means that no flexibilities will be withdrawn before August. They were initially rolled out to ensure learners were still able to complete their studies, which is still the case. At least 3 months notice will be provided before any decisions to terminate the flexibilities are made. An initial review will be carried out on the 1st May 2021, and we will be keeping you updated on the latest information as it happens. Keep an eye on the Brooks & Kirk blog so you don’t miss out on any updates.
If you have any questions regarding these flexibilities and changes to assessments during COVID-19 please feel free to give the team a call on 01205 805 155.