Flexibilities during COVID-19
At this unprecedented time of national emergency, it is vital that we maximise the number of staff available to help fight the virus and apprentices may be asked to move into a different role. A number of flexibilities have been introduced to support employers, apprentices and training providers during the pandemic.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has produced a guidance document on the impact of COVID-19 to ensure that, wherever possible, apprentices can continue and complete their apprenticeship.
The guidance includes information on:
- arrangements for, and examples of how to calculate wages for furloughed apprentices
- new safer working guidance so apprenticeship training and assessments can continue
- the delivery of remote training and via e-learning
- flexibilities for the end-point assessment (EPA), external quality assurance and qualification certificates
- off-the-job learning
- flexibilities for English and Maths functional skills for level 2 apprentices
- clarification on how and when to apply the policy on breaks in learning
- starting furloughed employees on apprenticeships
- support available for redundant apprentices
- apprentices being able to train in an education setting, in line with the guidance for further education providers
- FAQs which continue to be updated.
The guidance is being regularly updated and can be accessed on the gov.uk website.
There is further information and FAQs on managing apprenticeships during COVID-19 on the Skills for Health HASO website.
Training providers are encouraged to make use of distance learning tools and deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning, as far as is practicable. Where apprentices are furloughed, they can continue their training and assessments for their apprenticeships as long as they do not provide services or generate revenue for their employer. The 20 per cent minimum off-the-job training requirement still applies but this can be done as a block, where agreed between the provider and the employer.
Employers can recruit and start apprenticeships during COVID-19 and this can include furloughed members of staff. All new starters must meet the learner eligibility and programme eligibility criteria of the apprenticeship funding rules.
Redeployment and off-the-job learning
Where apprentices can remain on their programme, they should continue to fulfil the 20 per cent off-the-job training element. Where an NHS apprentice (critical worker) has been redeployed into another role, then some of this activity may count towards their off-the-job training. This should be discussed and agreed between the employer and provider and evidence of delivery must be kept.
In the majority of cases, pay will not change as the work the apprentice would be doing is of the same level. Where work is of a different level, then the appropriate rate for the job should be paid.
End-point assessment (EPA) flexibilities
A number of flexibilities have been announced regarding end-point assessments (EPA). These include allowing remote assessments where practical and possible, or delaying the EPA where appropriate.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has introduced temporary discretions to the EPA for 70 apprenticeship standards and has agreed a number of exceptional flexibilities to the EPA process for specific apprenticeships during the COVID-19 crisis.
For registered nurse and nursing associate apprenticeship programmes, changes have been made to the EPA that reflect the emergency standards introduced by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and can be applied with immediate effect.
Any registered nurse and nursing associate apprentice will be regarded as having met the end-point assessment (EPA) requirements and achieved their apprenticeship, if they have:
- completed the NMC approved programme
- been assessed by the NMC as having permanently met the requirements for professional registration
- passed through the apprenticeship gateway.
Meeting the above requirements means they no longer need to take a further assessment to complete their apprenticeships.
This change to the EPA process will only be applied to qualifying apprentices during the COVID-19 crisis. Further information can be found on the NMC website.
IfATE has also agreed flexibilities in the way apprentices can achieve the observation element of their EPA during the COVID-19 crisis for the following apprenticeships:
Until further notice, the observation assessment may be replaced with a reflective statement written by the apprentice and validated by an expert witness. This will be followed by a question and answer session of up to 30 minutes with an independent assessor.
Flexibilities for English and maths functional skills
Those studying a level two apprenticeship, who are due to take their EPA up until 31 July 2020, can be passed through the gateway to sit their EPA without the need to attempt the level two functional skills English and maths assessment (they are still required to hold or achieve level one).
Apprentices undertaking a level three or higher apprenticeship are still required to hold or achieve an approved level two functional skills English and maths qualification.
To avoid delay at gateway, IfATE has also agreed that apprentices can take their EPA and pass through gateway ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualifications (FSQ).
This will apply to:
- all apprentices due to take an FSQ test and receive a result between 20 March and 31 July
- those apprentices that are deemed by their training provider to have the required level of functional skills and sufficient evidence to demonstrate this to receive a calculated FSQ pass
- occupationally competent apprentices at gateway who are ready to progress to sit their EPA.
This temporary measure will allow qualifying apprentices to complete their EPA who would otherwise be stuck at gateway, pending their calculated FSQ. Apprentices will achieve their apprenticeship once they have passed EPA and received their FSQ pass.
Accessing funds to deliver training
We are aware that some of the training relevant to apprentices is now being delivered by front-line staff rather than by training providers. If your trust is on the register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) you can access funding via the provider. If you are not registered, you may consider applying to join the register under the flexible arrangements outlined below.
While the register of apprenticeship training providers closed for new applications on 15 April, the ESFA has agreed that employers of key workers can continue, by exception, to apply to join the register as an employer provider. For those employers who are delivering training relevant to the apprenticeship this would enable them to access funding.
- To make an application, employers should consult the application guidance and speak to their ESFA account manager.
- Their account manager will work with them to complete and submit the appropriate form.
- Submitting an exceptional application is not a guarantee of acceptance - all applications will undergo a full assessment in the normal way.
- Employers of key workers are as defined in the Department for Education’s advice to schools.
Further information can be found in ESFA’s update.