Detailed guidance explaining how apprenticeship flexibilities will be retained into 2022 and beyond has been published today (Thursday).

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute) announced in August that the measures introduced to help support the sector through Covid-19 would run until at least the end of this year.

The decision was subsequently made, following extensive engagement with the sector to listen to everyone’s views on what impact flexibilities have had, to retain seven out of the 10 flexibilities (which apply to all apprenticeships).

The guidance, now set out in our new Flexibility Framework, is mainly for end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) and the external quality assurance providers (EQAPs) who oversee their work, but will also be of interest to training providers, employers and apprentices.

It defines the principles and parameters for EPAOs to follow and EQAPs to consider and monitor, when considering and then applying for flexibility to EPA delivery.

The seven flexibilities that will be retained as options to use beyond January are: 

  1. Observations taking place in simulated environments 
  2. Remote delivery of assessment (including invigilation)   
  3. Pauses being allowed between assessment methods during end-point assessment period  
  4. Assessments taking place outside of usual venues  
  5. Delivery of assessment methods in any order (when a specified order is in the assessment plan) 
  6. Exams/tests being online instead of on paper (where originally specified as paper based only) 
  7. Gateway sign off being done remotely (where originally specified as having to be face to face) 

The three to be switched off on 31 December are:

  1. Changes being made to who sits on the EPA interview/discussion panel (when someone in addition to the independent assessor is specified) 

To note: During the Covid-19 period, it wasn’t always possible to have an employer sit on a panel as many were furloughed or busy elsewhere. As the economy returns to normal, the original assessment plan can now be delivered, helping to protect quality for apprentices, maintain validity and improve learning for future apprentices. 

  1. Allowing other suitable evidence of achievements being used in replacement of functional skills qualifications at gateway (other mandated qualifications are covered under temporary discretions) 

To note: This is no longer needed because the mandated qualifications should become available and achievable as restrictions are relaxed and training providers reopen. 

  1. Extension to the length of the end-point assessment period (where specified) 

To note: Decision made because it disadvantages apprentices to have a long wait for their EPA after passing through gateway.  

Rob Nitsch, delivery director for the Institute, said:

“We initially created these flexibilities as a way for apprentices to still complete their apprenticeships in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. We made sure that the flexibilities would not affect the level of quality to end point assessments and what we have seen is a willingness from the sector to really adapt to these changes.

“We’re thrilled to be keeping a number of these flexibilities in place as we know they can work just as well for some students as the normal standards we have set out.”

The cut off point for those flexibilities which are being withdrawn is the date at which the actual assessment occurs, not the date of gateway. For example, apprentices that progress through gateway prior to or on the 31 December 2021 but have their end-point assessment planned after 1 January 2022 will not be able to use the three flexibilities being withdrawn. 

Any end-point assessments that begin prior to or on the 31 December 2021 but are completed after 1st January 2022 can continue to make use of the flexibilities being withdrawn.

Apprentices that complete their end-point assessment before 31 December 2021, using a flexibility that is being withdrawn, but who require a resit/retake after 1 January 2022, are permitted to continue to use the withdrawn flexibility for their resit/retake. 

Discretions update:

Along with the Flexibility Framework, the Institute has also published an update to the guidance around use of more than 60 temporary discretions (which only apply to specific apprenticeships) that supported continued EPA through the pandemic.

A number of these began their notice period in August 2021 and will be switched off on 31 December 2021.

However, it was possible to ask for them to be retained in special circumstances to help resolve exceptional challenges to apprentices completing their EPA. Interested parties had until the beginning of October 2021 to do so and final decisions will be communicated by 14 December 2021.

For those discretions that are due to be switched off, the guidance includes detail around how to treat apprentices who are just starting, or are part way through, their EPA to ensure they are not disadvantaged.

Each apprenticeship standard with a discretion in place has a banner, on the apprenticeship standard page of the Institute’s website, which sets out what the discretion is. These banners have already been updated for those discretions that will be switched off. For those where an extension has been requested, the banner will be updated as soon as a decision is made and by 14 December at the latest.