Functional skills: Government changes apprentice rules

The government has announced a new flexibility as Ofqual publishes its plans for assessing functional skills in 2021

Julia Belgutay

Functional skills: The government has introduced a new flexibility to allow apprentices to start their end-point assessment

Apprentices are now able to start their end-point assessment (EPA) prior to achieving their functional skills qualification.

The government has updated its guidance on apprenticeship provision to say that from today, eligible apprentices can start their EPA before they achieve their functional skills qualifications if they have been waiting for the opportunity to access the assessments but have been prevented from doing so due to coronavirus restrictions.

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More: Why were FE colleges an afterthought again this week?

Background: Functional skills and the clashes over apprenticeship decision

Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said the government’s priority was making sure that apprentices gain the skills they need to progress.

“That’s why we are introducing a new temporary flexibility which allows training providers and awarding organisations to deliver training and assessments to ensure apprentices can continue to progress," she said.

Functional skills: Help for apprentices

“Apprentices can now start their end-point assessment before achieving their English and maths functional skills, which means apprentices who have been unable to access a functional skills test, either online or in person, can keep moving towards the next stage of their career."

She added: “A huge thank you to the entire sector who have worked so hard to ensure apprentices continue to receive the best education and training possible during lockdown.”

Earlier today, Ofqual published its plans for how functional skills will be assessed.

It said functional skills assessments can continue to take place in a training provider, college, school, employer premises or alternative location, where it is safe for them to do so in line with public health guidance. Assessments can be taken remotely or online, and where neither of these options is possible, and learners need a result to progress, a grade can be awarded through alternative arrangements, according to the new guidance.

The guidance says: “This flexibility will mean many learners will be able to quickly progress and not be delayed. It will also ensure that apprentices can progress through their apprenticeship and to future employment. As lockdown restrictions lift, more learners will be able to access assessments at their school, college, training provider or workplace as well as remotely, and the need for alternative arrangements will decrease.”

Jane Hickie, managing director of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “AELP has called for this in our various Covid-19 mitigation proposals to ensure apprentices could still continue on their programmes. Otherwise, they would have been stuck, unable to pass through gateway due to the lack of suitable solutions for FSQ assessments, which have belatedly arrived. The announcement will help to manage the pent-up demand for end-point assessment as we head towards the busiest few months of the year for EPA. 

"The government is concerned that the end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) may not be seeing the EPA volumes coming and AELP is encouraging providers to let the EPAOs know what they need. Currently, the funding rules say providers need to let EPAOs know at least three months in advance, but with the current functional skills testing log jam, providers have understandably been unable to book EPAs confident that they can go ahead. So we’re not out of the woods yet, especially with the delays in ITPs and apprentices receiving Covid home-testing kits.”

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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