Apprenticeship reforms: Off-the-job learning

By Tom Cheek, Apprenticeship Lead at the Science Council

As part of the apprenticeship reforms there is the requirement that apprentices receive at least 20% of their contracted work time to be off-the-job learning. The purpose being to reinforce ‘practical, work-based learning with theoretical learning’. The term is something that can cause confusion on what is considered acceptable activity to be included as off-the-job. In this blog we will look at the intention and impact of applying off-the-job learning for science apprenticeships.

To begin with let’s look at a definition of off-the-job, ‘learning undertaken outside of the normal day to day working environment and leads towards the achievement of the apprenticeship’.

It can include:

  • Theory – such as lectures, role playing, online learning, simulation exercises or manufacturer training;
  • Practical training apprentices wouldn’t usually do during the week – such as shadowing;
  • Mentoring, industry visits or competitions;
  • Support and time writing assignments;
  • Training can take place at the place of work but must not be part of normal working duties.

Therefore off-the-job could be block or day release to a college, training provider or university, or entirely remote/work based delivery with online learning. In most cases it tends to be a blend of these. English and maths training, progress of learning reviews and assessments do not contribute to 20% off-the-job learning. It’s the responsibility of the employer and the training provider to ensure this minimum 20% entitlement is met, with it being declared at gateway to allow apprentices to access their end point assessment.

Training providers and employers are required to support apprentices in building and maintaining a log or journal of activity that documents the off-the-job activities and reflects upon how this has improved knowledge, skills or behaviours. The requirement plays a significant emphasis on work-place mentors contributing to learning activities. For an apprentice to gain the most from their learning it is important for a triangular, collaborative approach to occur between the employer, apprentice and training provider.

Workplace mentor skills and employer engagement with an apprenticeship is a topic we will look at it more detail in a future blog.

As noted above, the skill of reflection is now an important aspect of being an apprentice. There are many models that can be applied, one example being the ‘What, So What, Now What’ Driscoll Model of Reflection (Driscoll J. 1994). This is a three-step model that supports apprentices in considering their actions:

First of all, learners ask themselves ‘what’? Consideration on what was the learning experience:

• What exactly occurred in their words?
• What did they see? What did they do?
• What was their reaction?
• What do they see as key aspects of this learning event?

Secondly, learners question themselves on ‘so what’? Developing an understanding of the learning experience:

• What are their feelings now? Are there any differences?
• What were the effects of what they did?
• What ‘good’ emerged from the learning, for themselves or others?
• What now troubles them, if anything?

Finally, the reflection is concluded by asking ‘now what’? How can the apprentice modify their future performance?

• What are the implications for them, their colleagues and customers?
• What will they do with the new knowledge, skills, behaviours going forward?
• In what way will this benefit them personally in their career, job role and their organisation?

Off-the-job activity supports the planning and implementation of learning and acts as a safeguard for quality, ensuring that apprentices receive a minimum sufficiency of learning away from the pressures of day to day work. It challenges apprentices to consider their values and actions and identify the aspects of their practice that can be further improved promoting continuous professional development.

Off-the-job needs to be carefully planned to ensure effective alignment to the learning gained through the on the-job aspect of an apprenticeship, allowing opportunity to contextualise theory into practice and develop a deep sense of meaning of their occupation.

Read Tom’s other blogs here.

Driscoll (1994) [online] Available at: <>
[Accessed 3 July 2020]