Two months into the new 2022-23 apprenticeship funding rules, compliance specialist, David Lockhart-Hawkins, delivered a webinar for apprenticeship providers. He highlighted the key challenges that have arisen and explains why he advocates a ‘compliance by curriculum design’ approach. We have put together a recap of the webinar below, and you can access the full recording here.
Headline funding rule changes
A number of changes and clarifications came into play in August 2022. Here are just some of the core areas of change:
- Off-the-job training (OTJT) – this moved from what was previously a calculation of 20% of an individual’s contracted working time across a practical period. The new minimum calculation is now six hours per week before statutory leave is applied. So, that means that the minimum number of hours required for an apprenticeship is now 278 hours for a 12 month programme. That number is increased pro-rata if the programme’s practical training period is longer.
- Subcontracting – we are now in the first full year of the subcontracting standard being applied. If you subcontract over £100k of funding you will have to work to the full rules of that standard.
- Initial Assessment – although many providers have been using skill scans for quite some time, it’s now mandatory. It has a crucial role to play in the identification of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).
- Eligible costs – although initial assessment is now an eligible cost item, it doesn’t necessarily mean that providers can be claiming more money. It just means you’re going to be distributing your pricing into an additional category of eligible cost. It will help transparency of your pricing however and allow you to apply a price to something that for many carries a significant cost.
- Employment status – clarifications on the rules make clear the importance of line management, with sole traders and shareholders and directors with no line management no longer being eligible to start apprenticeships.
- Applying prior learning to price – there is a new minimum formula for applying prior learning. It uses the percentage of hours of off the job training removed from programme as its rationale.
- Active learning – there was clarification that a gap in active learning for four weeks or more requires the provider to apply a break in learning.
- Training Plan – the commitment statement was renamed to Training Plan. Its role in the programme has been made clear. It’s a live working document; it must be updated and re-agreed for material changes.
- Progress reviews – we now have a mandated time frame of having progress reviews at least 12 weekly, and they must be signed off by all parties.
‘Compliance by curriculum’
What you can see is that the majority of the headlines of change center around the importance of programme design. This is essentially what David calls a central theme of ‘compliance by curriculum’. He explains, “So much of compliance stems from the most critical part of the apprenticeship infrastructure – the design of the programme itself. This is totally in the control of the provider and it’s also the central pivot in compliance. If the programme design isn’t right, then you’re going to face a significant compliance as well as operational challenge.”
In short if the curriculum design isn’t right, and doesn’t link effectively to initial assessment or what is sold to employers, or isn’t delivered as planned you will have compliance challenges.
For example, how can you calculate off the job training reductions for prior learning if they’re not linked to curriculum? How can you calculate a reasonable training price amendment if you do not understand the cost of the content you are delivering? How can you re-plan if you do not have a clear plan?
“For me, construction of curriculum is the core challenge providers face when dealing with compliance. Based on the updated rules, particularly the clarification on active learning, the calculation of RPL and impact on pricing, it is the central challenge this year. It’s something you really need to have a solid grip of”, says David.
David advises providers to take the necessary steps for designing compliant curriculum, even if it’s time-consuming. That means understanding the structure and composition of tasks and the time required for those tasks: “Hopefully, many providers have already taken the steps. If you haven’t, or even if you have, it’s something that’s worth revisiting on a regular basis. It helps to establish the relevance of your current programme to the potentially changeable line of professional competence.”
Constructing a compliant curriculum is time consuming but essential.
David explains: Every provider should have put their programme together based on understanding the Knowledge, Skills, and Behaviours (KSBs) that need to be achieved in that standard. If there isn’t a learning task relevant to each one of those KSBs, you will have gaps in your programme. And how can you be sure that the learner will learn that within the apprenticeship?
Off-the-job training rules
The rule change to a six-hour week calculation has had a significant impact. The most common compliance challenge David sees in the audit work his company carries out is providers struggling to move on from a position of calculating curriculum design as 20% of working time across a duration to one of a fixed curriculum. “In 21/22 the 30-hour-a-week learner needed 278.4 hours minimum to be an apprentice. The 37.5-hour-a-week learner needed 348 hours. There would be no difference in the amount of time it would be expected to achieve competence. We now work from a more logical position of what is the curriculum needed to achieve competence. That would be generally the same volume for each learner irrespective of working hours. It might just be distributed differently.”
Ask yourself: Is our programme design, the hours we’re telling apprentices and employers to expect the reality of the journey of my programme? Is it what our apprenticeship looks like?
“If you’ve sold the programme on a basis of six hours a week, but an apprentice needs two days a week, you’re not going to be compliant unless they’re paid for all that time and its in normal hours. You will also fail quite miserably at getting good satisfaction data out of your employers and apprentices.” You will also likely see a direct link with lower retention if programmes are missold.
For providers with valued qualifications within their programmes this risk increases if that qualification is attained on programme before end point assessment. This is what David calls the ‘carrot component’ in programmes. The risk of working outside of normal hours and outside of paid time also increases when the carrot within a programme is significant enough in the apprentice’s view to warrant going the extra mile. So, any degree or masters equivalent is likely to see individual apprentices strive to achieve irrespective of the impact on their work/life balance. “Doing a little extra to achieve a higher outcome isn’t necessarily a problem, but if the extra mile is necessary to achieve? Well that’s a problem.”
“What if the content of a programme is the opposite? When it’s far less than sold? In these programmes, there is a higher risk of fabricated off-the-job hours and generic recording of block hours without substance.”
Progress reviews are the documents that tell the real story of delivery. “An off-the-job training record is usually just that, a list of hours and tasks, and they are not often particularly detailed unless you use a journal capture system. Progress reviews, however, are what give away the challenges of delivery; the true journey taking place. Comments such as “struggling to fit the work in within my day job, having to use holiday” are common in programmes that have been designed and or sold poorly. Auditors will be able to pick out the instances of non-compliance as far as activity in paid time. They’ll also find inconsistency in the logging of off-the-job training.
If you’ve designed a programme strongly, then you can also plan in the reviews well. And I do recommend you do so. By making sure in the enrolment process you gain agreement on review dates, you put them in the calendar. As a result, you increase their importance in the process. Make clear their time expectations within the programmes you’re selling.”
Active learning was introduced in the 2021/2022 apprenticeship funding rules. But, it’s only this year we get confirmation that gaps of four weeks or more are deemed to require a break in learning on the data.
David describes this whole area as ‘an administrative headache’. Monitoring and processing this is going to require much closer moderation of participation data. David suggests the way to limit this problem area is naturally to look at the design of the activity programme. Whether you’re distributing learning evenly, front loading, back loading, block, there has to be something to show active learning month to month.
“Consider what each of Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours looks like in the job role of the Standard. Here’s a top tip. Make this something qualitatively worth doing – implementing new knowledge, or a skill, or perhaps a series of objectives built around behaviours. So even in block release, what can be designed to show the embedding of that to a point of competence. Activities designed such that, only when completed, can you deem someone competent. If you’ve planned that, then using your off-the-job records and perhaps using journal entries or regular tasks will mean that having to apply active breaks (and the headache that involves) should be limited. Once again you can see this is compliance by programme design.”
In terms of evidencing OTJT, David has been an advocate for some time of using a weekly journal style approach. This, he links to understanding where in curriculum a person is, and what should they be learning at that time on a week to week basis. With the new 22/23 apprenticeship funding rules, OTJT needs to be planned. While prescribing week-to-week may not work for all providers, you may look at what tasks are in a chapter / module and design that module to include reflections.
Initial Assessment (IA)
The 22/23 apprenticeship funding rules mandate the use of skills scans within IA. That’s not too much of a challenge for most providers who have used skills scans for some time. Think about how effectively your skills scan, and initial assessment in general, informs the need of curriculum:
- How do you determine the need of components
- How do your KSBs inform your curriculum content?
“My advice here is to apply further detail to your KSB questions, a benchmark of what competence actually looks like, so that you’re getting a more informed response. So, again, compliance here is based on accuracy to the curriculum, the programme design you intend.”
Making reductions to content and price – RPL by task v RPL by chapter
There are two common methods used for recognition of prior learning (RPL) and David refers to them as follows:
- “RPL by task. It’s granular – a low volume of OTJT per task adjusted based on the tasks required or not required. It’s compliant, but it’s a bureaucratic headache.
- RPL by chapter. If your programme design links robustly to KSBs and you have a reasonable number of chapters / modules, you can apply RPL by chunks of hours. Commonly seen in HEIs with Degree Apprenticeships, successfully attained credit transfer means that module/those hours are the reduction.”
David explains that the benefit of RPL by chapter is that the adjustment to curriculum is simpler; more logical. ‘Do I meet all the learning outcomes for the chapter?’ Yes, then I don’t need the chapter. ‘I need some?’ I need the chapter. This only works if you have a reasonable number of chapters and RPL is possible. If you find RPL is impossible, i.e. there’s one module and its 12 months, that’s not realistic nor in the spirit of the funding.
Once you have a designed programme, the content is clear. For those components, what is the cost? We have eligible cost components and can price them how we want, unless you are an Employer Provider. The new minimum formula for RPL comes into play here.
“The new formula is far from ideal. It uses the percentage of reduced curriculum and applies a 50% reduction of that percentage to the total price (training price plus EPA (assessment) price). My advice is to actually look at an alternative model, something that makes sure your adjustment is at least the minimum but might be more easily explained. For example, applying fixed costs to initial assessment, management and administration, then distributing the rest of cost to modules and reducing price based on module or chapters not needed. That’s far more easily explainable to employers. It should, in most cases, exceed the minimum formula but you may need to top up the reduction if it doesn’t.”
Watch the webinar for David’s walkthrough of the scenarios.
Material changes to the Training Plan
No matter how well designed, there will inevitably be occasions where there are deviations from the plan. “The trick is to use progress reviews as the controlling evidence for the accuracy of the training plan. Develop your review a little bit more to look at the big picture. Not just action since the last review, but the schedule moving forward. Remember, you can’t change planned dates on the ILR unless there are breaks in learning. But operationally, learners may have a different expected end date based on progress.”
David advises providers to be mindful of when such changes require an update to the Training Plan and Apprenticeship Agreement. “If the practical period or completion date is going to go beyond the original agreement, yes, you will need to make updates. You can see the importance of planning good reviews. These will include additional checks on working conditions, contract changes, role changes. Good reviews also comment on maths and English development, and Additional Learning Support. It would be a mistake not to include clear, measurable satisfaction metrics and prompt for the capture of the employer and apprentice ratings and apprenticeship service. Those areas are looked at in your accountability framework position.”
When thinking about apprenticeship compliance, David stresses it’s important to think beyond the funding rules. Compliance isn’t just about funding, it has at least five strands to it:
- Service level
“Not all of these have some kind of rulebook, so the others are where you have to develop yourself. If you ignore service level agreements with your partners, if you fail to meet the expectations you’ve set with your client base of employer and apprentice, you will not have long-term success. The wise provider will look to achieve consistency in its compliance across these areas through having robust programme design. Robust curriculum. Something we can clearly establish when we’re selling programmes, when we’re delivering programmes and when we’re evaluating programmes.”
The goalposts of the apprenticeship funding rules continue to evolve. But, what will not change is the need for a good programme to be driven by effective design. You will always need to meet and exceed the expectations of these areas of challenge.
About David Lockhart-Hawkins
David is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant for Lockhart Hawkins Limited. He represents a number of the leading stakeholders in the sector as a consultant. He plays a significant role in assisting the growth and prosperity through designing and delivering effective and efficient evidence systems. David is also responsible for monitoring programmes and insightful strategic development services.
He delivers workshops and webinars nationally for the Strategic Development Network and their events. David’s upcoming events can be found here: https://www.strategicdevelopmentnetwork.co.uk/sdnevents/
You can follow David on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidlockharthawkins/
You can also contact him directly through his company at www.lockharthawkins.com
You can access the full recording of this webinar here. Aptem is an end-to-end apprenticeship management system that is designed specifically to support you in the delivery of high-quality, compliant apprenticeships. Get in touch today to see the system in action.