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Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in Apprenticeships


Recognition of prior learning (RPL) in apprenticeships is a critical first step on a learner’s apprenticeship journey.

RPL includes a skills scan, accreditation of both qualifications and experience, and a discussion to ensure that the learning provider has a complete and accurate understanding of the knowledge and skills a learner brings to their apprenticeship, as well as any gaps in their understanding. This will form the basis of an individualised learner journey.

The skills scan and RPL will be used to inform funding applications while supporting the design of a tailored learning journey for the apprentice. It is therefore a key driver for a successful learning outcome, bringing transparency to where the learner is at, what they need to learn, and how they are progressing. It brings to life the idea of knowing what success looks like for each learner.

Why is Recognition of Prior Learning important? Why do you have to get it right at the very start?

Recognition of prior learning supports two essential aspects of apprenticeships.

Firstly, RPL enables the development of a tailored apprenticeship programme, ensuring that the apprentice has the best chance of success. RPL ensures that the apprentice:

  • is on the right course for them
  • will have any additional support they require, and
  • can see their progress.

The correct assessment of an apprentice’s existing skills and knowledge establishes a baseline from which progress and attainment can be measured, motivating the apprentice through to programme completion. For the trainee, RPL ensures the most direct route to their end-goal, while for the employer, RPL ensures that training time is used in the most efficient way possible. For the learning provider, RPL supports high completion rates and better outcomes.

Secondly, RPL is essential to ensuring that the learning provider meets statutory requirements for off-the-job training and minimum duration, and does not spend apprenticeship funding on unnecessary training or on certifying existing skill and behaviours. RPL will be assessed by the EFSA during their audit.

ESFA Funding Compliance and Recognition of Prior Learning

The ESFA are interested solely in the funding that has been claimed and will look, in detail, into the data learning providers can provide to evidence their claim. During their reviews, the EFSA looks closely at the initial assessments and skills scans. They assess the quality of an assessment, ensuring that it was both specific and thorough, and check that the results have been correctly considered in the price, content and duration of that apprenticeship. According to FE Funding and Data specialist Karl Bentley, 20% of HE providers in 2020/21 did not calculate, calculated incorrectly or did not clearly document on the learner file the negotiated price for an apprenticeship. Doing so relies on RPL being carried out and documented correctly; one reason it is fundamental to take care with apprenticeship initial assessments.

For more information on ESFA funding compliance, see this recap of a recent special webinar for Aptem members led by FE Funding and Data specialist Karl Bentley.

What is the impact of not getting RPL and skills scans right?

Recognition of prior learning is an essential first step for two key reasons.

Firstly, the quality and outcome of an apprenticeship, both important factors for Ofsted, depends on RPL. If RPL is not done well, the apprentice will be less motivated and less likely to complete on time or to a high standard. Apprentices who do not clearly understand their starting point in relation to their end goal will not be able to see their progress and will lose motivation. A poor quality RPL will also result in a less tailored programme where materials are repeated or not targeted to the specific goals of the learner.

Learnings from recent Ofsted inspections highlight that, ‘Recognition of prior learning comes up as a critical indicator of success, with such providers then able to “develop a learning plan to ensure apprentices develop significant new skills.”’ And a related pitfall that has come up for Ofsted is, ‘Where apprentices’ prior learning, qualifications, skills and experience are measured at the start of the learning, “they do not use this information effectively to set individual targets and measure gains in apprentices’ knowledge”. The knock-on effect of this is a decline in the chances of apprentices fulfilling their potential.’

Learning providers need to be mindful of the RPL and carry learning from the skills scan through to apprenticeship delivery. By selecting an apprenticeship management platform that has all of this functionality in one place, all key stakeholders – learner, training provider, employer, will have full visibility of the true starting point and be able to revisit it in reviews and take appropriate action to stretch and challenge the learner.

Secondly, a poorly conducted, low quality RPL and skills scan will be picked up by the ESFA during their audit. The ESFA looks first at the initial assessment of apprentices to understand both that the funding is being used correctly (apprenticeship funding cannot be used to fund repeat learning, only new skills, knowledge and behaviours) and that this assessment has been correctly carried through to the negotiated price of the apprenticeship. Learning providers who do not take care during this first stage of an apprenticeship are setting themselves up for difficulties later on.

Using an Apprenticeship Recognition of Prior Learning Calculator

Recognition of Prior Learning can be a complex process. It requires detailed input from the learner and an accurate calculation of the reduction to funding based on the number of hours the apprentice will not receive, in line with their prior skills and experience, as well as correct documentation that maps the RPL and resulting negotiated price.

The simplest means to ensure a quality and compliant RPL is to use an apprenticeship Initial Assessment calculator. Aptem customers have free access to a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Calculator. Here’s how it works.

The Aptem RPL calculator enables providers to evidence adjustments to training price and programme duration in recognition of prior learning. The feature provides the ability for you to define an RPL policy and use Skills Radar assessments to provide automated adjustments in line with the RPL policy. The RPL calculator not only provides a clear evidence for adjustments but also automatically reflects the adjustment to training price in the learner’s ILR TNP1 record.

Process automations such as these are designed to eliminate the possibility of errors in re-keying and reduce the associated administrative effort in updating the relevant areas of the system. The feature includes an approval process which can include one or two stages of review depending upon your standard business process. This ensures that you have complete control over changes made to your learners’ data. Learn more here.

If you would like to talk to a member of our team about how Aptem supports nearly 200 apprenticeship providers with Recognition of Prior Learning, please get in touch.

Please note that certain features and functionality highlighted here are exclusive to specific Aptem packages. Please speak to your Business Development Manager, or Customer Success Manager if you are already an Aptem customer, for further information.

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