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Apprenticeship Trailblazers and funding reforms

An apprentice and employer looking at a file.

Summary of current status

Background

In October 2013, the Government published "The Future of Apprenticeships in England" which set out plans to make improvements to the current system of Apprenticeships, chiefly making them more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers. This followed a review by the entrepreneur Doug Richard which found the current system to be over-complicated with too many standards and confusion over Apprenticeship frameworks.

Alongside the review, it was announced that employers from a number of industries including Digital, Automotive and Financial Services, would be involved in setting new Apprenticeship standards and delivery models for job roles in their sectors. These would be known as 'Trailblazers'.

Where are we now?

Since 2013, two further Trailblazer phases have been announced involving more and more employers and more and more job roles and sectors. So far over 100 Trailblazer groups have either developed or are developing new Apprenticeship standards and delivery models. Once these have been approved, the new Apprenticeship then goes live and is available for use. The intention is that by 2017 all Apprenticeships will be delivered under new standards and the old frameworks will be withdrawn.

A full range of groups involved in the Trailblazers can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/apprenticeship-standards. Sectors including accountancy, insurance, consulting, business and law are all involved.

Accountancy update

In March 2014, accountancy was one of the sectors named as part of Phase 2 lead by employers including KPMG, PwC and Grant Thornton and involving all Professional Bodies. This group has so far designed the standards for two Apprenticeships: L4 Professional Accounting Technician and L7 Professional Accountant.

The group, together with training providers including Kaplan, have then designed an assessment plan for the L4 Apprenticeship standard. The plan is currently going through the approval process. Once approval has been granted, the standard will be available to use. We expect it to most likely be ready for starts in Autumn 2015.

How does this differ from current L4 Apprenticeships?

The good news is that the accountancy sector already has very credible, well-used Apprenticeship frameworks, chiefly AAT, but also in more recent years strengthened by the Professional Services Apprenticeships in Audit, Tax, Consulting and Management Accounting. With this in mind, it meant we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The below bullet points summarise the most likely main similarities and differences between the two approaches. Please note that as this assessment plan has not yet received formal approval it is subject to change.

Current L4 qualifications

  • Professional qualification
    • AAT
    • CFAB (ICAEW)
    • CIMA
    • CIPFA
    • FIA (ACCA)
    • ATT
  • Portfolio creation
  • Quarterly progress reviews
  • Length of programme (12 month minimum)
  • Funding available

Trailblazer proposal - all the above plus

  • End-test
  • Grading
  • Work based assessment route

Main similarities:

  • Both contain a Professional Qualification (if Qualification route is chosen)
  • Both mandate regular reviews of progress to ensure the Apprentice is being exposed to the correct skills and opportunities to enable them to meet the standard required
  • Both require creation of a portfolio of work-based evidence
  • Both take a minimum of 12 months to complete
  • Both attract government funding (always subject to change)

Main differences:

  • Option under new Trailblazer to follow a work-experience route with more emphasis on gaining evidence in the workplace than on professional exams (although some professional exams would currently still need to be taken).
  • Per old standards the work-based assessment is very prescriptive with detailed requirements that have to be met. Under the new proposed Trailblazer, there is more flexibility over what evidence can make up an Apprentice’s portfolio.
  • Trailblazer standards mandate that there has to be end-point assessment which sits over and above any existing qualification and tests the whole standard synoptically. It is a government requirement that new Apprenticeships be graded.

When will I have to move my students onto this new standard?

Once the assessment plan has been formally approved, the standard will become available for use and therefore you can start students on the new L4 immediately, we imagine from late-summer to early-autumn 2015.

As it stands, the government have indicated that the old standards will remain available for a minimum of 12 months once the new have been approved meaning you can continue to use the current L4 Apprenticeships until at least summer 2016.

Please note that once a student has started on one of the existing frameworks, they are entitled to complete this framework so will not be forced to switch mid-way through.

How will funding change?

The government have also indicated that they intend to reform the current way Apprenticeships are funded, although the outcome of how they will do this is still uncertain.

As it currently stands, once a new standard is ready for delivery, it will be placed into a funding band which dictates the maximum amount of funding available for that Apprenticeship. Funding is only available if the employer also makes a contribution. For every £2 that the government contributes, the employer will be expected to contribute £1 although incentive payments will be made for hiring 18 year olds, if you are an SME and when the apprentice completes.

A new model was announced earlier this month which was a digital voucher, issued by the government to the employer and spent with an employer’s chosen provider. No further details have been made available at this stage.

For any starts on existing frameworks there are no changes to the existing system of funding.

What about L2 and L3?

At the moment, these are not in scope of the new standard so there are no immediate planned changes to these frameworks. A Trailblazer proposal to create a L2/L3 standard 'Assistant Accountant' was approved in May 2015.

Advice

Kaplan has been integral in the preparation of the assessment model for the new standard. We believe that it makes improvements to the existing standards, not least by offering a work-based assessment route which can increase access to the profession but also in removing prescriptive assessment standards and bringing in synoptic assessment to demonstrate all the skills, behaviour and knowledge of the standards together.

As the assessment plan will require some revisions before it is ready for use, our recommendation is that you continue with your recruitment plans as normal with the aim for students to study on any of the existing frameworks – AAT, Audit, Tax, Management Consulting or Consulting. If the assessment plan is ready for use in the Autumn, we would be able to advise you on which would be the best route and we would be ready to deliver under either.

Our role on both the SFA’s Large Companies Unit, steering committee of training providers and on the working group of several trailblazer groups ensures we are extremely well placed to advise and support you during these changes.

For further information please contact Cassandra Macdonald, Head of Professional Services Apprenticeships at Kaplan at Cassandra.Macdonald@kaplan.co.uk or visit kaplanapprenticeships.co.uk.