National Apprenticeship Week 2019

6 March 2019

This week is National Apprenticeship Week. This gives the healthcare higher education sector an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of individual apprentices and take stock of the progress that has been made since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017. The Council of Deans of Health is publishing two blogs to provide current educational perspectives on apprenticeship delivery.

Universities, in partnership with employers, have been central to the development of apprenticeships in healthcare. There are now higher and degree-level apprenticeships for a wide range of healthcare professions, giving apprentices the opportunity to pursue their ambitions and develop the skills to take on new and exciting roles. Educators have been involved in trailblazer groups developing new apprenticeship standards and have been working to create innovative programmes that meet the needs of both employers and professional regulators.

The Council of Deans of Health has been working to guide members through this complex policy landscape. This has included giving oral evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee on nursing apprenticeships, hosting seminars and workshops, regular policy briefings, and engaging with our apprenticeship working group to influence policy across both health and education. The Council remains committed to ensuring that healthcare educators play their part in this important agenda.

Our first blog in this series is by Denise Baker, Head of School – Allied Health and Social Care, University of Derby

A year is a long time in politics, the life of a child and, it seems, apprenticeships. This time last year we were preparing to welcome the first nursing associate apprentices at Derby. I had been fortunate enough to be a member of the Trailblazer developing the apprenticeship standard and end point assessment (EPA) strategy, which gave a fascinating insight into the workings of apprenticeship policy and its implementation.

I think it is safe to say that the policy intention (shaped by Doug Richard’s 2012 review) could not have predicted the impact we now see in higher education. Of course, there are many advantages to delivering apprenticeships in higher education, but there have also been many challenges.

I have stopped asking ‘what’s the point of EPA?’ and moved to ‘how do we deliver EPA?’ or ‘who will attempt an EPA if it’s not integrated?’ When many of the apprenticeship programmes we offer lead to professional registration at the point of completion of the higher education qualification, why would employers or apprentices voluntarily undertake another assessment, which it could be argued, they don’t need? The risk of ‘non-completion’ lies mostly with the provider, although it also reflects poorly on the employer too. And then there is the 20% of the funding contingent on the EPA being attempted. Providers will not see sight of this if EPA is bypassed, meaning the apprenticeship becomes more costly to deliver.

Costs associated with the delivery of apprenticeships cannot be overlooked. A whole new administrative machine has needed to role into action to ensure compliance in contracting and support for procurement. Some academics are struggling on almost singlehanded, trying to grapple with funding rules and Ofsted inspections with little support. Others are more fortunate and have a wider network around them, but it’s still time consuming and anxiety inducing. Previously excellent working relationships with practice partners are threatened over contract negotiations; both parties need to be assured that they are doing the right thing and getting the best outcomes for their respective organisations. Although higher education and employers are both interested in the adequate supply of suitably qualified staff, each have different governance and compliance needs, sometimes leading to frustration on both sides.

Different needs of health and education providers are also reflected at government level – the recent announcement that all sub-contractors will need to be on the Register of Approved Training Providers (RoATP) (with all of the challenges that brings) has had a direct impact on our Nursing Associate apprenticeship. Why would a small care home or GP practice try to join RoATP in order to access some of the funding identified in the apprenticeship funding band? Why bother developing their own staff if it is too burdensome?

Is it worth the effort? We can see the difference apprenticeships are making to the lives of the apprentices, their employers and the service users they care for. Behind all of the rhetoric and vexation, higher education is making a difference. Although we await formal evaluation of the impact of apprenticeships, the opportunity for career progression has motivated a whole sector of support workers and widened routes to registration. It will improve social mobility, especially in a female dominated sector. It has given apprentices the opportunity to do more, to attend university when they thought they couldn’t and has given them self-confidence. Isn’t that what higher education’s about?

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