The fate of training providers could be left hanging in the balance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Institute for Apprentices and Technical Education (IfATE) chief executive Jennifer Coupland.
Ms Coupland told Tes that there were going to be major challenges ahead for apprentices, providers and awarding organisations who are involved in training and end point assessment (EPA).
It comes after earlier this week, the Association of Employer and Learning Providers (AELP)’s chief executive Mark Dawe warned that the sector was set for "catastrophe", with many providers telling the AELP that they were in imminent danger of going out of business.
Ms Coupland said: “I am determined that the institute will continue to be as responsive and supportive as we possibly can be.
“The sector is going to face major financial challenges and I know the government is working hard to support a great many people and businesses across the economy as a whole, for instance with the furloughed workers' scheme where people’s wages can be paid up to 80 per cent.
“I also know that taxes have been deferred and interest free loans are available alongside the new coronavirus job retention scheme. I am hopeful that employers and providers will be able to take advantage of those schemes to help them keep going through the worst of the outbreak.”
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With the country on lockdown and many workplaces closed, training – and assessment – has had to move online.
And Ms Coupland said that there would need to be a “significant shift” towards end point assessments happening remotely. This, she said, came with quality challenges.
She said: “My team has worked hard on addressing this and we will strike the right balance between maintaining standards and allowing for the greater flexibility that will be required.”
The IfATE guidance makes it clear that apprentices deemed ready for assessment who cannot be assessed due to assessor illness or Covid-19 related measures can have a pause in learning as per Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) rules, Ms Coupland said.
She added: “Where face-to-face engagement is required for EPA, we have confirmed that this can be done remotely, subject to conditions including that arrangements must be cleared in advance by the EQA provider and the apprentice’s identity is verified.
“Where the EPA plan specifies a time limit by which assessment must be completed post ‘gateway’ – which is the point where an employer agrees an apprentice is ready to take the assessment – we are saying this may be extended by up to 12 weeks.”
How IfATE works with employers, assessors and providers will be kept under review – and the priority, Ms Coupland said, will be community clearly to the sector to ensure as many apprentices get to take their end point assessments and standards are maintained.