I had the opportunity to present to the #FELTAG FE and Skills Coalition in London this week on the challenges I see around the vocational reform programme in England and the opportunities emerging from this. I will not rehearse them all here but will offer a short summary.
I think the system is becoming comfortable but needs more challenge around delivering 20% of apprenticeship programmes off the job. There is still room for more innovation around on-line delivery. Training organisations unused to classroom delivery need most support here in shaping innovative on-line offerings.
The main challenges lie around how to manage the movement of learners through programmes and towards end point assessement without the scaffolding of the unit based qualifications that existed in previous frameworks. There is an opportunity here for open badges and other forms of micro-credentials. You can see City and Guilds and the other former awarding bodies that operated in this space positioning their delivery systems to supply learner content and step by step assessments that are supported by open badges.
Managing learmers progress is a mechanistic challenge too. Many frameworks require the collection of on-going evidence to be presented at end point assessment. The system as a whole needs new approaches to e-portfolios that better support learning and development. The previous vocational system was over reliant on checklist based systems while the systems that are used in Higher Education are too aimed at deep reflection against very broad outcomes. The ideal system for the new apprenticeships lies somewhere in the middle - twinned with an reliable virtual learning environment for learner delivery and tracking. This to allow trainees, employers, training providers and End Point Assessment providers a window on the progress of the learning. Trainees need to be highly confident that they are ready for end point assessment.
For providers there is still a challenge around making sure that there is a consistency of decision making and reliable quality control both around delivery and in decisions about predicting gradings.
Grading is a new concept in this area of training. There needs to be greater transparency around the quality assurance mechanisms for End Point Assessments. Candidates and training providers need clear guidance both around understanding the pass/fail criteria and the grading criteria in many frameworks.
There remain some gaps - some of which might have been held up by the general election. I think many observers were anticipating the publication of a new set of digital competency standards around digital literacy to be published in England. This to form part of the underpinning essential skills for apprenticeships. There is already a new framework in place in Wales.
There remain too some deeper structural challenges that need tidied up by the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education. Some standards and assessment standards are not fit for purpose though published and approved. Probably best exemplified by the diminishing but still stubbornly high list of frameworks with no end point assessment body. This is still a potential crisis needing averted. The offer for non-levy paying employers still seems unclear and will stop many SME employers engaging with the programme. I think too the cost of end point assessment may act as a deterrent for both employers and employees in achieving fully qualified status.
From a Scottish view point
As someone with a lot of experience of this sector in UK and internationally I understand the English drivers for many of these changes - but I don't agree with many of the reforms. I think the system should be rightly very anxious about the next wave of changes in trying to shoe horn vocational delivery towards 15 strands. Yes, they do things like this in New Zealand and in other vocational systems but not in the manner that is being attempted in England.
I wish the term UK Vocational Reform Programme was used less - in what is in essence and practice an English Vocational Reform programme.
But I am jealous about some of the high level movement and thinking going on.
On the data side, the willingness to make more use of the Universal Learning Number ( we have had this in Scotland since the 1970's, the Scottish Candidate Number, but have never fully exploited its utility around reporting learner progress through all of our learning system) The work around both the Individual Learning Record and the Individual Learning Plan with that focus on how the system supports and pushes on the performance and achievement of the learner so that centres are not rewarded for simply allowing the learner to mark time is something the Scottish system should be exploring. Yes, it does take some learners longer than others to achieve but system should be working to understand this. It will be interesting to see how the final link to HMRC shows a clear link to income and productivity. Would be great to see some of these approaches in Scotland.
We have data and some of these tools but have lacked the willingness and ambition to join this data up in Scotland.
I like too the grading of apprenticeships - as will employers and apprentices - but I think you can achieve this without the cost and disruption of End Point Assessment.
I like too the broader ambitions of the graduate apprenticeship programmes in England . In Scotland we are doing these targeted at areas where there has been a lack of flexibility from the Universities and a latent demand from industry. In England you are doing this too but also building a rich set of alternative pathways into the professions like law and accountancy. This will really close the academic and vocational divide.
Finally I like the innovation around delivery and assessment that has been driven by both the FELTAG coalition and by the changing landscape shaped by the vocational reform programme. There is a greater sense of urgency to adopt new delivery methods and drive up the technical capacity of centres and teaching staff in English Colleges and training providers. We do have some excellent practice in Scotland but it is more distributed. Jisc and other have been doing a great job in supporting centres through this period of change .
I'll do a follow up post on the growing list of support available for centres in this new landscape.