Apprenticeships: The purpose and potential of reviews

By Apprenticeship lead, Tom Cheek

In this blog we will be considering the role of reviews in apprenticeships, exploring the potential benefits of the process, the features that can be considered for inclusion, and the positive impact they can make on both the apprentices learning progress and performance within their organisation.

As considered in earlier blogs, apprenticeships work best when delivered as a collaborative programme between the apprentice, their employer, and the training provider.  Even better if the End Point Assessment Organisation is involved earlier too.  By combining in a cohesive way, it ensures the broadest range of knowledge, experience and expertise being shared in a consistent manner, that develops the apprentice’s knowledge, skills and behaviours, best preparing them for their end point assessment and/or completion of qualifications.

Reviews ultimately start from the very beginning, acting as an extension of the initial assessment and design of the individual learning plan.   The review has a dual purpose in reflecting on progress to date, and forward thinking in identifying and planning future collaborative learning, responding to and building upon the initial scoping activities.

Just as would be expected for the initial assessment and creation of the individual learning plan, the review should incorporate the involvement of apprentice, employer, and training provider. It is this collective approach, that assembles a range of observations and perspectives that can best define the learning journey, that understands and interlaces both on and off-the-job learning activity, connecting classroom, online learning and workplace experiences together as one cohesive learning landscape.

So, what could be included in a review?  Let us consider some key elements:

Consideration of off-the-job learning.  How is this learning activity impacting on the performance of the apprentice within the workplace?  Are they able to apply the theory and knowledge within a working context?  Is the contextualisation of theory developing a deeper understanding that leads to improved performance and competence?  Is there adequacy and quality in the learning, away from the pressures of day-to-day work that is contributing to the apprentice’s progress?

Vocational use of English and maths.  Is the apprentice aware of how and where English and maths relates within their occupational role?  Are they demonstrating use of vocational use of English and maths that is fit for purpose and at industry standard?  Do they have the English and math skills that will allow them to develop their career beyond the apprenticeship itself, supporting and facilitating career progression?

Consideration of on-the-job learning.  What activities at work has the apprentice been involved with?   Are there any key challenges that they have faced and what learning resulted from this?  How can workplace mentors support and develop the apprentices’ skills and confidence within the work setting?  How has the apprentice applied learnings from off-the-job activity into day-to-day or task specific work?

End-point assessment readiness.  From the earliest reviews, end point assessment should be considered.  Is the apprentice aware of the end point assessment methods and requirements?  Are they developing the skills that will be required to maximise their chances of success?  For example, do they have confidence in their presentation skills and how can this be developed throughout the apprenticeship? What activity can the employer, such as workplace mentor, or the training provider apply that will best support their apprentice to be ready for their end point assessment.  This can be delivered alongside side the development of knowledge, skill and behaviours, but with a nod to the assessment methods specific to the published apprenticeship.

Action planning.  As well as looking at the progress made to date, the review can look forward, creating new actions that respond to the learning needs (identified through the review), with clear identification and allocation of targets that are SMART:  Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic and Timed.

By being SMART it clearly establishes the expectations of all parties, developing clarity and purpose of actions, whilst minimising wriggle room for targets not being met.  Smart targets are not to be confined to the apprentice alone.  They may relate to their workplace mentor, or their training provider.  By creating robust SMART action plans, it forms the path that ensures progress towards end point assessment readiness.  It also ensures to consider individual learning needs, by stretching and challenging individuals, and implementing early support interventions where risk is identified.

Learning activities.  The learning activities allocated within the smart objectives must have a clear alignment to the learners needs, as identified in their initial assessment, or through the progress review itself.  These activities can help in developing the apprentices understanding of the requirements of end point assessment and how these learning activities relate to and can further develop the apprentices’ abilities, both for the assessment and their occupational competence more broadly. Learning activities can support them in developing their theory, contextualising it into the workplace that further improves the impact on organisational performance, whilst also developing the skills required to present best their ability at end point assessment.

Reflective Learning.  Reviews offer an opportunity to examine the quality of reflective practice by the apprentice.  Are they maintaining a log of their learning activity?  Are they considering the full range of experiences both on and off-the-job?  Is this consolidating their thoughts, views and opinions or challenging them to create new meaning of their work? Is the reflective practice helping them to identify areas for further development that ways to feed this into action plans?

Personal development, behaviour and attitude. Reviews offer the opportunity to explore broader factors such as:  Physical & mental health; Resilience, confidence & independence; Reaffirming safeguarding such as the arrangements to protect the apprentices from neglect, abuse, grooming & exploitation; Understanding and debating the life of modern Britain such as exploring what is meant by British Values & the importance of diversity.  Of course, all these aspects should run as a thread throughout the entire provision of an apprenticeship, but a review offers that chance to act as a safety net to ensure that apprentices and their employer, understand how all these factors impact in industry and society more broadly. For example, the profile and provision of British values is now established within the educational sector but is this consistently equally true within organisations and businesses employing apprentices, who may be small, medium or large.  The apprenticeship and its reviews can act as a catalyst to examine these areas in more detail, progressing organisational process for the benefit of all.

So, in conclusion, reviews form an essential part of any quality apprenticeship provision. They offer milestones that consider firstly the initial assessment and individual learning plan, that lead to the assurance of specified learning activities that are assigned at a time that will make most positive impact to learning. They monitor progress to ensure that apprentices are working towards timely end point assessment, capturing both apprentice (learner) and employer voice to validate this progress marker. The apprentice gains the absolute most from both their on-the-job learning within the organisation and off-the-job learning, be it online away from the pressures of day-to-day work within the workplace or at a training providers or higher/further education facility.

Reviews offer that unique opportunity to bring everything together: the progress of mandated qualifications and training plans; the progress towards end point assessment; the progress of vocational use of English and maths; the progress of the apprentices’ own work performance and impact within their organisation; the consolidation and clarity of future actions to ensure continued progress; the maintenance and security of their well-being; the development of life-long learning skills such as reflective practice; the buy-in and engagement by the workplace and the workplace mentor; the observation and advice by the training provider.

Reviews help to maintain the focus that all learning plans have solid intent, with a clear vision through effective and timely implementation, including effective assessment.  The result being impactful and progressive learning with strong learning progress, resulting in an apprentice that can present full occupational competence at the end of their apprenticeships, with skills, knowledge and behaviours that contribute to business function and success.

References: 2021. Education Inspection Framework. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 25 June 2021].

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