A learner’s tripartite review is a fundamental aspect of any apprenticeship. Yet running these meetings well is a skill that evidently has not been mastered by all.
As shared in a recent webinar on learner reviews by expert consultant Tony Allen, many Ofsted reports feature feedback along the lines of: “Apprentices’ progress reviews do not capture all aspects of apprentices’ development. Employers do not review apprentices’ progress with Coaches. Too often Coaches agree targets with apprentices that are too vague to meaningfully guide the apprentice. Review records do not capture what the apprentices know and understand about areas such as British Values.”
So, thorough meetings, reviews with both coaches and employers, specific and actionable targets, and values based or behaviour-led discussions are all aspects of the review process which commonly trip organisations up. Here, we will explain how to maximise the benefits of a learner’s tripartite review meetings for the apprentice, the employer and the training provider.
Personalisation is known to have a significant effect on educational attainment. Learner review meetings are the core of personalisation in apprenticeships, setting out and tracking goals the apprentice and their coach have identified, and demonstrating a clear path towards attainment. Regular review meetings are fundamental to checking a student’s progress against their pathway and allowing learner, employer and coach to make any adjustments considered necessary, be that additional support to boost attainment, or reconfigured goals to challenge any learners progressing better than expected. Knowing there are regular checks and a personalised plan will keep learners motivated as they move through their apprenticeship.
Documenting the journey
Properly documenting the learner’s tripartite review meeting gathers evidence of their achievements. It also demonstrates attainment against their goals, as well as against the standards knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs). A clear record of learner review meetings will empower them with knowledge of where they are and where they are going. Having written documentation likewise enables the coach and employer to clearly see and review the learner’s progress and, if relevant, areas for improvement or extra work. Documentation also allows the training provider to demonstrate they’ve fulfilled their requirements, for example, towards safeguarding. Furthermore, training providers will be able to use insights gained during properly documented review meetings to improve their programmes and processes.
What happens when you don’t get it right?
The consequences of poorly conducted learner tripartite review meetings are threefold.
Firstly, the learner is likely to be less motivated and push themselves to attain their goals. At the same time, review meetings provide an opportunity for coaches and employers to pick up on and address any challenges the learner is facing. Therefore, when reviews are not properly conducted the learner may fail to achieve course completion by the planned end date, jeopardising funding.
Secondly, regular and well conducted reviews are a key signifier of quality for Ofsted. As we saw in the opening quote, a lack of specificity when it comes to goal setting, and records that do not capture the apprentices progress against standard apprenticeship behaviours, contribute to an impression of low quality.
Thirdly, thorough documentation is important for securing Education and Skills Funding Agency (EFSA) support. If the EFSA considers that the reviews conducted and evidence provided are inadequate, they are liable to refuse or withdraw funding.
What makes a good tripartite review meeting?
In his informative webinar, Tony Allen outlined seven key aspects to cover to ensure a learner’s tripartite review is as effective as possible.
1. Tracking learning progress against milestones
First and foremost, it is essential that the first tripartite review between learner, coach and employer sets out a clear plan and expectations for the apprenticeship. This should form the backbone of all future meetings. At each meeting the learner should be asked to reflect on their progress against the actions that were previously set. These attainments and the KSBs that they demonstrate should be recorded. The discussion should determine – and the record reflect – whether the learner is on track to achieve their learning goals and complete their apprenticeship.
2. Reviewing progress against the KSBs
Tony was careful to emphasise how important it is to give equal weight to determining the apprentice’s progress towards knowledge, skills and behaviours. Typically, the apprentices attainment of the required behaviours is under-documented. This can lead to an assessment of poor quality by Ofsted. A discussion with the learner about their skills and behaviours, the challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them should serve to draw out where the apprentice stands on their journey to achieving these.
3. Explaining where the apprentice is on the learning journey
The coach needs to provide the apprentice and their employer with an understanding of where they currently sit on the learning journey. They should also know what is still to be achieved. This is a great opportunity to discuss anything the learner has done above and beyond the requirements of the apprenticeship. At all times the aim is to motivate the learner, so it’s important to be upbeat and positive.
4. What does the learner still need to achieve?
Maintaining a positive tone, the coach should then explain what the learner needs to do. This starts a conversation about additional challenges or additional support to keep them moving forward. This is also a chance to cover any safeguarding concerns and discuss health and wellbeing.
5. Actions for next time?
The coach needs to outline any specific points the learner needs to hit in order to be on track at the next tripartite review. Actions must be agreed as clear and measurable SMART goals. They need to be specific to the requirements of the programme and the KSBs. The learner, employer and coach should all be able to properly track progress.
6. Ask the employer to contribute
Much of the conversation so far has been directly with the learner. It’s imperative that the employer is asked to share what they think about the apprentice’s progress. They should be given chance to raise any concerns they have and say whether they agree with the coach’s assessment. It’s important to discuss what they can do to support the apprentice to achieve the actions that have just been set out.
7. Make it official
Finally, at the end of the tripartite review, everyone present must sign the review document. The training provider should upload this to the learners profile in their learner management system. The learner and their employer must have access to a copy.
Maintaining engagement in the learning journey
To these crucial seven steps, Paul Crisp, Account Director at IT apprenticeship provider JustIT, posits that maintaining enthusiasm and engagement is essential. “The best experiences I have had in the role is where everyone is passionate about the learner journey. If the learner and employer are as excited about where the learner is going as the provider is, it ensures these meetings are beneficial and effective” When a learner meeting is not achieving its intended purpose, Paul looks for approaches to boosting engagement: “In the world we live in now, it could be something as simple as a learner not having their camera on or really engaging with the employer or us as a provider. Sometimes having a separate conversation with the learner after a meeting uncovers areas that we weren’t aware of and can be dealt with ahead of the next review.”
As we’ve seen, there is a lot of ground to cover in an effective learner review meeting. To make sure these discussions are as efficient as possible, and to allow the coach, learner and employer to have a more in-depth and meaningful discussion, it’s advisable for all parties to submit review information ahead of the meeting itself. This will give the coach up-front information so they are ready to dive into the conversation, ask poignant questions and set the learner on their way towards the next milestone. It will encourage the employer to consider their role and how best they are supporting the learner and opening doors for demonstrable application of their learning. Perhaps most importantly, ‘self-service’ reviews will prompt the apprentices themselves to think about and reflect on their journey so far, preparing them to speak up purposefully in the review.