Podcast - Assessing apprenticeships

Assessing apprenticeships with Cambridge Assessment Network

10 Feb 2021 (33:31)

Download this podcast (mp4, 30.5mb)
This is the first in a series of podcasts from Cambridge Assessment Network focusing on different aspects and forms of assessments. For National Apprenticeship Week they are joined by Leo Webster and Callum Foley from NCFE to discuss how we assess apprenticeships, why we assess them and why they are an important route to qualification.

Cambridge Assessment Network is an accredited provider of assessment training and professional development. We aim to bring together professionals from the assessment community to share best practice and the latest thinking. You can find out about our upcoming professional development opportunities on our events pages. Or to stay up date with our network sign up to our newsletters. 

NCFE is a national awarding organisation with a focus on vocational learning. A longstanding customer of the Network, many colleagues from NCFE have attended our training courses to develop skills and knowledge in the principles and practice of assessment.  

You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Podcast transcript

Alana: [00:00:07] Hello and welcome to the Cambridge Assessment podcast, I'm Alana Walden, and I'm here to introduce a new series of podcast interviews hosted by our colleagues in the Cambridge Assessment Network. The Assessment Network equip practitioners with the skills and knowledge needed to design and develop effective assessments. In this first episode, we're focusing on apprenticeships and assessment and are joined by Leo Webster, apprenticeship product manager, and Callum Foley customer engagement lead from NCFE, which is a national awarding organisation with a focus on vocational learning. 

Penelope: [00:00:46] Welcome to this podcast from Cambridge Assessment Network. Today, I'm here with Leo Webster and Callum Foley from NCFE for National Apprenticeship Week to talk around the challenges and complexities involved in assessing apprenticeships and why apprenticeships are such an important route to qualification. So hello to both of you and thank you so much for agreeing to speak to me today. First off, if you'd like to just introduce yourselves and say a bit about what it is you do. So, Callum, would you like to start? 

Callum: [00:01:19] Thank you for that, Penelope. So my name's Callum and I work for Skills Forward. I'm based in the customer engagement team and I am responsible for leading that team. So any customer that is inducted into our services, I'll be responsible for ensuring they have an outstanding experience when dealing with our products and services. 

Penelope: [00:01:37] Yeah. And Leo, if you'd like to tell us a little bit about what you do. 

Leo: [00:01:41] Hello. I'm a product manager for apprenticeships at NCFE and I've worked on the End Point Assessment Team and NCFE and pretty much since it was started three or four years ago. So I've got quite a lot of experience gained in that time in really understanding what and really understanding what those challenges and complexities have been, and particularly from an end point assessment point of view, but also working together with all of our customers, our training providers and colleges to understand assessment from their point of view as well, kind of throughout the journey of an apprenticeship, really. 

Penelope: [00:02:19] So first off, I just want to talk about the different ways that we do assess apprentices and why each of the different way is important. So, Leo can we start with you? 

Leo: [00:02:28] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to look at all of the different ways that we, the apprentices are assessed through an apprenticeship, really, you have to look at that journey from end to finish. So right at the start, you're going to have some kind of initial assessments and understanding, what that apprentice already knows according to you, that apprenticeship really so that you can prioritize different learning right the way through and tailor that apprentices specific learning plan and what they're going to learn throughout the apprenticeship by getting that baseline right at the beginning. It's just so important to be able to tailor it in that way. And then once that initial assessment is done, there's going to be some formative assessment that's taken place through the on programme learning and that can take many, many different formats. You know, there might be a qualification involved, if that's the way that the apprenticeship has been designed, in which case that formative assessment may be quite formal. So it might be the building of the portfolio towards the qualification, but it could also take the form of maybe professional discussions and really collate any work based evidence so that the apprentice can demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they've collected along the way. And then as we get to the end of the apprenticeship, especially with apprenticeship standards, this is where an end point assessment organization comes in. An end point assessment organization is an independent body. 

[00:04:10] We use the analogy of a driving test quite a lot. So an end point is an end point assessment organisation is almost like that driving examiner right at the end of your kind of learning to drive journey where you drive an examiner is someone that you've never met before. He was going to sit with you on the day and look to see whether you can drive kind of in line with the standards that have been set out by the regulators. So the end point assessment can then take many, many different formats, depending on the way that that standard has been designed. So this could be a professional discussion. It could be a portfolio. It could be an observation. They're really, really specific towards the apprenticeship that's been undertaken. I think some of the more interesting examples, because you did get some quite interesting ones, I think on the commis chef apprenticeship, you actually have apprenticeship apprentices having to do what's called a culinary challenge, which is a bit like a 'ready steady cook' scenario with with an end point assessor. So, you know, that assessment runs right the way through or through apprenticeships, and they can take both formal or informal and kind of method. 

Penelope: [00:05:34] And Callum, I wonder more on the customer side of things. How do you engage your customers with these different forms of assessment? 

Callum: [00:05:42] Ok, so given the nature of my role, I find myself dealing with external stakeholders all the time and prescribing them the best and most suitable assessments for the topic that is at hand now. You know, every single training provider has a different approach to the delivery of assessment and the delivery of the qualification or standard as a whole, but two sort of areas where, you know, there will always reoccur regardless of the nature of the organisation or the courses. And that is, of course, the initial assessments that relate to English and Maths, you know, determining that. Starting point prior to when he learned, you know, to justify the level, of course, that that individual has been put on and, you know, just really recognise as early as possible their weak areas in learning. So, you know, I find myself describing the use of electronic initial assessments all the time, really essential in the assessment aspect of the delivery of a qualification or standard. As well as that, I find myself prescribing SkillScan assessments, assessments that are designed specifically for learners who are undertaking a standard or to extract the key knowledge, skills and behaviour statements from that particular standard. And the learner will be able to, you know, have an opportunity to say how competent they believe they are in relation to each one of those statements. The result of that, again, is in how much funding you're going to draw down for that individual. Of course, as we'll all be aware you can't fund any prior knowledge. And these assessments are absolutely vital in terms of, you know, obtaining that data. That, of course, would be even stronger as an assessment if it was validated by external parties such as that learners’ employer. So, yeah, I mean, when it comes to describing this missile, something I'm quite busy doing really essential aspects of any apprenticeship, and it can really powerful in terms of, you know, determining that starting point and measuring that progress throughout the duration of the apprenticeship to ensure that they are as prepared as possible for that endpoint assessment. 

Penelope: [00:07:47] Ok, so that's really interesting because, it sounds like at that stage, the assessments are very much tailored towards the individual, depending on sort of what level they're starting off from. 

Callum: [00:08:02] Yeah, and that's really important for me, to be honest. So as I've recognized there, each training provider, college or local authority, will have a different approach when it comes to delivering these apprenticeships. So when it comes to the learners, you know, we need to make sure that they get in the bespoke information that's going to allow them to be successful. We can't tell everybody with the same brush. And that's something that you do need to take into consideration when put in your, you know, method of apprenticeship delivery together. The use of assessment, you know, to be precise, the artificial intelligence within the assessments and the algorithms embedded within that can be really successful in detecting, you know, the learners weak areas versus strengths. So bespoke assessments is something I'm really, really, really passionate about. And to those users that provide assessments that tie everybody with the same brush, I do ask them to consider, you know, the negative that could arise from that, especially at the stage of endpoint assessment. 

Penelope: [00:08:57] So what are the challenges presented by these kinds of assessments? 

Callum: [00:09:03] Well, you know, let's take a hypothetical situation that I am a learner doing an apprenticeship. Of course, the English and Maths is a mandatory component of that apprenticeship. So I just concentrate on that particular sort of situation there. Now, if I was to conduct an initial assessment in English, I may discover that my overall working towards level is, you know, level two. But that needs to take into account if I'm overall working towards level two, I need to be able to justify that with no in all of the level one content, all of the entry level content, and be 100 percent proficient at those skills. And we know that's not always the case. So even though a learner might have level two competency in three out of four areas in the fourth area where maybe the only competent level one or lower entry level three would need to be able to provide a bespoke resource for that particular outlet to avoid situations like, you know, being put forward through EPA. And because you've only practiced, you know, level two content, because that's what the system prescribed to you in the form of an assessment you may have failed to brush up upon those level one components and that might prevail. And the endpoint assessment when they are recognizing that learning is competency. So, you know, there are some of the issues surrounding not bespoke and content. You know, you can't tie everybody with the same brush as I've said. 

Penelope: [00:10:20] Okay, so now I wanted to speak about why assessment is such an important, important part of apprenticeships. Um, so I wonder if you could tell me a bit about how the different assessments can contribute to the learning. 

Leo: [00:10:39] So I think really this question goes back to the creation of apprenticeship standards and one of the reasons that those apprenticeship standards were put in place as opposed to or rather replacing the apprenticeship framework to say that there is that that standard is there that sits across all sectors and across all of the UK. So if an apprentice has undertaken a customer service apprenticeship, they are able to do their own job, that they're doing the apprenticeship, but also they have the ability to take those skills and move them to another role in another organisation or even in another sector. So the the assessment is really, really crucial to the learning, because as Colum spoke about getting that initial assessment really correct, but then also using assessment to be able to benchmark right the way through the progress and ensuring that, you know, that learning taking place is the right pace. It's not too slow. It's not too quick, then apprentices are really fully able to comprehend everything that they're learning and then also figure out the apprenticeship apply within that job, because that's a really, really crucial part. Know apprenticeships are made up of knowledge, skills and behaviours. That's what makes them different to just a qualification in something that might just be knowledge based that really kind of understanding those skills and behaviours and picking those up and assessment throughout the. Formative assessment throughout the program, learning phase of apprenticeship can can really kind of empower that and help those apprentices to. Penelope: [00:12:21] And Callum, do you get any feedback from people undertaking apprenticeships about the different kinds of assessment they're asked to do and whether they have doubts or concerns about them? 

Callum: [00:12:33] Well, yeah, I'm in a great position to answer that. I mean, feedback is, you know, is something I encourage from my customers more and more. I like to show you the fantastic in providing that of that be positive or negative. I think when I'm in the initial discussion regarding the assessments that they are to use as part of the apprenticeship, I kind of I feel a bit of a need to sell it to them. So there's a lot of association that assessments are used just to keep compliant. OK, so it's just the compliance aspect that teachers will or tutors will have the mindset that the only reason they have to do this assessment is to comply with the rules that have been specified by the government. And there is nothing more to it than that. Well, you know, I like to put the special attention on the functions of the assessments and the importance that that provides to customers. And I think once, you know, you convey that information to them, you can really get them bought into your ideas and they can start to actually believe in the assessments that they conducting. So, I mean, I can only speak on behalf of what I know. And that is, you know, functional skills, initial assessments and skills assessments. But, you know, just informing a trained provider that's just started or a college, you know, that's just starting off and getting a feel for the apprenticeship world. The initial assessment is more than just to take box activity. It allows you to justify the level, of course, that you're putting that learner on. And, you know, as I've said previously, rarely get into their strengths and weaknesses within that particular, you know, subject area. 

[00:14:00] You know, it saves them it saves them a job when you think about it long term. So for those training providers that are just starting up, you know, the question that is you need to conduct an initial assessment that reflects that learning overall, working towards a level that might be something that intimidates them straight away. You know, how am I going to put this content together and make it valid? Well, you know, obtaining assessments that have been developed by subject specialists or professionals can really help you sort of smooth out your delivery of apprenticeships. There's always, you know, aspects of negative feedback. I feel like some learners feel like the hindered by assessments and they just want to get on with the learning content within their apprenticeship standard. But, you know, as I've said, there's more to it than just compliance. If you can really sell the use of an initial assessment as to determine that learners’ capability level, it really does encourage the use of assessment. So I have a couple of clients that, well, actually print out their initial assessment scores and send their learners home with those scores to then show to the likes of their parents or any peers that might be interested in. You know, it's quite rewarding to say I've taken an assessment and I've recognized my current competency to be this. And I've got a clear plan as to why I'm going to practice this next in order to, you know, really hone in on those knowledge, skills and behaviours. So, you know, really essential in the grand scheme of things. 

Leo: [00:15:20] I think on that point as well, it's really, really important to be able to sell the purpose of assessment. You know, it's already really made clear that an assessment, as you said, isn't just an assessment for the sake of it. You know, the assessment has a purpose and this is going to be the outcome. So we find that training providers who are really, really able to to demonstrate that to their learners and to their apprentices and their apprentices, a much more bought into those assessments, particularly end point assessment. 

Penelope: [00:15:51] And I imagine that the pandemic has had a massive impact on apprenticeships, especially work based apprenticeships. Um, so I wondered if you could tell me a bit about how recent events have impacted your work. 

Leo: [00:16:12] Yeah, absolutely, I mean, dramatically is probably the one word answer, as I'm sure it's the same for absolutely everyone. So we were able to move quite quickly when the lockdown first was put in place and. A lot of end point assessment, which is the majority of assessment that we as an important assessment organization undertake and can tend to happen in the workplace. So it could be observations in the workplace or professional discussions where our end point assesses go out to visit an apprentice in their place of work. And luckily, we had previously adopted a kind of digital method. So using video, videoconferencing and things like that for an end point assessment for professional discussions and interviews. But one of the things one of the ways that things have been quite difficult is where particular assessment plans Monday say an observation and luckily the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education Skills Funding Agency around the time that the lockdown first started. Were able to adapt quite rapidly and and and it was really, really quite it was really good. So they put in place dispensations for a lot of standards. 

[00:17:39] And we were very, very lucky. And a lot of the standards that we offer in particular were able to be delivered with these dispensations in place. So that could take the form of where? That previously been a workplace observation that had been required for a particular standard, that observation had been replaced by, say, a reflexive account and a half an hour question and answer session, and the replacement assessment would look exactly the same assessment criteria within that. But just using the new format and for that assessment. I think well, I mean, that's still the way that we're operating now for us, we're able to deliver all of those assessments remotely now. And it's it's an interesting thing because I think in the future there's been a lot of well, I mean, in the past 12 months, there's been so much adoption of these kind of digital solutions, especially to apprenticeships and assessment, that I think that they're going to stick in the future. Another really, really good example of this is individualisation, which is something that I don't think anyone had really considered about a year ago.

[00:19:04] But now we're in a position where we are able to utilise remote individualisation. So if someone is undertaking a written test, so a multiple choice test or something like that, they're able to do that at a computer using the webcam on the computer and the camera on a phone to be able to have someone remotely invigilator a particular assessment. Penelope: [00:19:27] So do you see those modifications being something that opens up apprenticeships more in the future? Leo: [00:19:34] Yeah, absolutely. And I think the interesting thing about some of those particular adaptations has been, I think regulators are much more open to those kind of. Those kind of digital tools being used within kind of the agreed assessment methodologies of the apprenticeship standard, whereas. And in the past, they might have been maybe a little bit more risk averse potentially, but now, you know, we've we've got a great use case of exactly how it has worked. And it's worked really, because it's absolutely had to. 

Penelope: [00:20:15] And Callum, this might be one for you. What kind of extra support have you had to offer for apprentices during this time? 

Callum: [00:20:28] Well, they are always the focus, of course. I mean, the sole reason I come in to work and do my job is for the, you know, the benefit of the learner. And I like to think that anybody else in the sector shares that same thought. Now, when look down here, I think it's important to recognize that not everybody was actually utilizing an electronic assessment. So, you know, there's more than just electronic assessments out there. There's paper based alternatives. There's even alternatives. The assessors have been peddling for way longer than what they should have done. You know, they come up with it 20 years ago and nobody's money is the better it sounds. Well, you know, I slightly disagree. So, you know, just encouraging the use of electronic assessments in the event that, you know, a world pandemic was to ever hit. I'm sure there was a couple of people joking about that at the back end of 2019, that something like that would never happen. Well, don't those individuals feel silly now? 

[00:21:17] So how I had to sort of tailor myself to support this is being a lot more social in terms of my method of engagement with stakeholders. So, you know, teams, meetings, I'm sure that, you know, teams have seen a massive benefit from everybody being stuck inside. I mean, it goes further than just presenting the users with training issues, making sure that they're OK and, you know, they're able to come into work and perform how they need to in order for the learners to gain, you know, access to a qualification. So, you know, the whole strategy of account management always starts off with developing the product and filling a trade need. But sometimes, you know, we are not called on a Friday afternoon by somebody just wants to have a little bit of a vent about their responsibilities they've had on that particular week. So it's just tailor in your approach to be a bit less, you know, throw, you know, business sharp and, you know, taken a bit more of an understanding approach and just making sure that we're all pulling together for the sake of the learner. So teams has helped me out massively in terms of my presentations and allows me to actually ensure that the effectiveness of my training is taking place. So when you can see people physically react to what you're saying or what you're showing them, it allows you to sort of capture whether it's been successful or not. You know, not everyone's learning style is on teams. Of course, there is still the odd individual that would refer to emails or a live chat facility, you know, really just making sure that everybody's OK and up to scratch when it comes to achieving that qualification for the learner. However, that might be. 

Penelope: [00:22:54] I also want to ask you both why you think apprenticeships are such an important avenue for people, so maybe, Leo, if we could start with you. 

Leo: [00:23:04] Yeah, I mean, it's just really, really important for people to have choice when they think about the kind of training that they can potentially go into. 

[00:23:13] I mean, you know, I think about my experience at school and at school and the kind of the overriding feeling that I got from my second year was that, you know, you will go to university and that that essentially was the end of it. I wasn't really presented with a choice. Well, it wasn't really. And those kind of choices weren't really presented to me and definitely apprenticeships weren't something that was spoken about a lot, and I do think that that is something that has changed quite a lot. I do think apprenticeships have had somewhat of an image makeover in the past couple of years, which is really, really exciting, because what that means is that I think they are much more accessible to people now. And I think that the the way that apprenticeship standards are actually put together, you know, through employer trailblazer groups who have to get together and essentially, you know, decide this is a role for which an apprenticeship needs to exist. It's really, really exciting because what that means is that these apprenticeships become so much more tangible, so much more relatable to a really, really specific job, but also that there's really kind of demonstrable progression through apprenticeships. You know, we operate in the health sector and you can you can draw a path from, you know, health care support where as an entry level position through to a senior health care support worker, level three. And then before moving on to potentially health care assistant practitioner or nursing associate, there's really, really clear lines and for people to be able to progress there. But also, it's just a really important option for people who might not be academically minded. 

Penelope: [00:25:01] And Callum, I believe you yourself were an apprentice at NCFE. So I just want to ask why that was such an important career for you. 

Callum: [00:25:11] I am a huge, huge fan of apprenticeships and I'd be keen to prescribe it to, you know, hundreds of learners depending on their situation or story. And just just to expand on that a little bit more. I'd like to share a little bit of my story. So, you know, similar to Leo, I find myself on the completion of school with, of course, grades that I consider to be good. You know, I was happy with the grades that I received in secondary school, and I find myself looking for, you know, the next step. Now, I've known from a very young age that I want to be a CEO is what I want to be a chief executive operator. And that is the you know, I'm deciding to take now. Now, when I approach my sixth form to have this conversation with them, they made me feel as if that option was not for me. And I was maybe, you know, overstimulating what I could and couldn't do. Now, what they then provided me with is a range of sporting courses that they felt would be much more appropriate for myself. They had made me believe that sports was the forward for me. And that was kind of I was stuck with that, put me in a position in my life where, you know, I'd lost all ambition. I thought that the goals that originally set out, I've just depleted until I discovered apprenticeships. So I applied for an apprenticeship skills forward back in 2018, you know, so I just took myself into the working world and see what I could achieve via this apprenticeship. 

[00:26:39] I was successful in the completion of my apprenticeship and I wanted to achieve Level three qualification in business administration. Now, the fantastic thing about apprenticeships is that you get access to a pot of levy off the back of completing a qualification that you can utilize to fund further courses. So I was busy in terms of arranging my next steps, you know, I purchased a level for qualification in leadership and management that was appropriate for the route, a personal progression I wanted to take. And I was successful in achieving that qualification. Also, you know, this is something my employees recognized that had been continuously progressing myself and put my hand up for additional responsibility. And this is when the managing director approached me to offer me a fully funded place at York University to a Level six job to manage a degree. So apprenticeships have given me the ability to re-engage in my original goals, to be a chief executive operator and give me the ability to actually believe those once again. So take myself back to 17 year old Callum, who was sat in front of his, you know, six form staff who were telling him that sport was the only route forward for him to being part of this podcast today and being responsible for leading a team of seven in my early 20s is, you know, a story that I consider to be fantastic. So any learner that can take it from, you know, somebody who's gained success from apprenticeships, just do it. 

Penelope: [00:28:08] Well, thank you so much for sharing that Callum. It's really great to hear from someone who has actually undertaken an apprenticeship and evidently been so successful. So finally, I just want to ask you both a bit about what you see the future of apprenticeships looking like. Is there anything you see on the horizon that you think will have an impact, for example, new apprenticeship standards? 

Leo: [00:28:34] Yeah, definitely. I think the great thing about the apprenticeship standards is that, you know, they just they keep on getting developed, which is fantastic. And if you haven't recently had a look, I'd really recommend just having a look at the Institute for Apprenticeships website, because you can just see the full list of apprenticeship standards that are available for people to undertake. And it's it's really, really great. You know, you can look through and see some some like really interesting apprenticeships that just keep on getting developed and they're just going to keep on getting developed in that way because employers are always going to have a need that needs to be fulfilled by a particular role. And if an apprenticeship doesn't already exist for that role, then then they're going to get together and develop that. I think in terms of changes on the horizon, there's recently been a white paper that I think has really cements the position of apprenticeship standards. And I think apprenticeship standards are going to be here to stay for for a long while. For a good while, I think. It was such a radical change when they were first implemented that I think that has been somewhat of a teething process. You know, it's taken a while, I think, for for Northpoint assessment organizations and training providers to really understand the full the full kind of weight of the reform. But now we're really at a point where I think people are really people have a good level of understanding that people are really excelling, both delivery and end point assessment. I think really in the future, there's just going to be more digitally focused methodologies as well. I think especially as regulators get more and more comfortable with those kinds of techniques being used, you things like the remote invigilator, and then I think they're going to be more open to those kind of innovations, maybe in other areas as well. 

Penelope: [00:30:41] And do you think that drive for more apprenticeships is coming from employers or learners or perhaps both? 

Leo: [00:30:49] I think there's a little bit of both. I think, you know, as Callum spoke about earlier, apprentices, I think apprenticeships are more desirable than they maybe were in the past. And I think as more and more learners understand what an apprenticeship is and what they can actually do with it, you know, I speak to people on on a daily or weekly basis who don't really understand. How to access apprenticeships and actually the breadth of studying that they could do with apprenticeships and once you explained it to them in detail, they're amazed, you know, if they're a manager, they want to enable their staff members to undertake apprenticeships. And if they're if they're, you know, a potential learner, then they they want to get involved. So I think I think learners are definitely driving it. And then at the same time with the employers and the employers have potentially a levy to use. And I think that they're always going to want to utilise that levy in the most effective way for their particular circumstance. So I think from that point of view, they're always going to be looking to the kind of current apprenticeship schemes and thinking, you know, does this work for us? Does this suit our needs or is there a gap that could potentially be filled by, you know, a specific new type of apprenticeship? 

Penelope: [00:32:17] Any final thoughts before we go? 

Leo: [00:32:21] I just to echo what I said before, just apprenticeships are incredible and really do get involved. Have a look, see if that's something you'd want to do an apprenticeship then, and just look at the list that they're great there for everyone. They're not just for young people. And yeah, tell everyone about apprenticeships and tell them that they're great. Penelope: [00:32:40] Ok, that's good to hear for a national apprenticeship week! Definitely. 

Callum: [00:32:45] Last last thing from me is, you know, just don't be held back from achieving your goals. Don't let anybody tell you that, you know, you can't get in that particular subject area or route. Apprenticeships is a fantastic option in terms of, you know, pursuing the career of your choice whilst getting some, you know, on the job experience as well. So if you are thinking about obtaining an apprenticeship, go for it. 

Penelope: [00:33:09] Well, again, thank you both so much. 

Alana: [00:33:13] Thank you for listening to the Cambridge Assessment podcast, you can find more of our podcasts on our website, just search podcast gallery, or you can find us some Apple podcast or YouTube.

Return to top

Research Matters

Research Matters 32 promo image

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.