Why are the apprenticeship standards changing?

The tech apprenticeship standards were originally developed in 2016 by the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IfATE), the government agency responsible for working in partnership with employer groups from across the tech sector to develop and update the apprenticeship standards. As a rule of thumb, we expect the standards to be reviewed every three to five years.

The latest changes to the apprenticeship standards have been made for three key reasons:

  • Changes in the nature of the roles covered – this is particularly true in technology where technology, skills requirements and job roles change faster than anywhere else. For example, increased adoption of cloud, automation and AI, as well as new ways of working such as DevOps.
  • Alignment with the latest needs from industry – since 2016, the requirements set by government for apprenticeship standards have continuously evolved to meet industry demands. The new standards bring apprenticeships in line with these needs.
  • Assessment method review based on the experience of the last 5 years. This is where we have seen the greatest number of changes.

In this blog, I explain the changes that will impact tech apprenticeships generically. For further information about individual apprenticeships, speak to your QA contact, or get in touch.  

What are the changes to End Point Assessment and why?

The biggest change is to End Point Assessment (EPA) for apprentices. In the previous version of the standards, there were three different methods of assessment during EPA, combined with the need to submit a portfolio and an employer reference in order to pass through the Gateway (i.e. to be allowed to begin the EPA).

In the new apprenticeship standards, the EPA has been streamlined to reduce the assessment burden on apprentices and focus more on demonstrating an apprentice’s competence at work. In the majority of the updated standards, the new design for EPA includes:

  • Professional Discussion: The apprentice will need to submit a portfolio of work in order to pass through the Gateway and commence EPA. This portfolio should demonstrate evidence of the knowledge, skills and behaviours mapped for the professional discussion. This will typically be no more than 10 separate pieces of evidence and is expected to include technical artefacts where appropriate (such as code and data visualisations).
    • The professional discussion itself lasts for 40 minutes and includes a 20-minute presentation by the apprentice followed by 20 minutes of questions from the independent assessors. A minimum of 8 questions will be asked in each interview.
  • Employer Project: In the previous version of the standards, there was a Synoptic Project, which was a simulated practical test away from the working environment (a bit like Great British Bake Off). This has been replaced with a work-based project to align better with the apprentice’s daily working practices (more like working in a professional bakery).
    • Prior to the Gateway, the employer and apprentice will need to agree on a suitable project at work, and submit this to the End Point Assessment organisation. Once the EPA begins, the project itself is expected to last for 6 weeks with a further 2 weeks allowed for the apprentice to write up the project report for submission. The word limits for the project reports vary by standard, but are typically between 3,500 and 5,000 words.

Why have mandatory qualifications been removed from the standards?

Since the development of the original standards in 2016, the focus for apprenticeships has changed from certification to competence so mandatory qualifications have been removed. The new apprenticeship standards state that qualifications can only be included if the employer group can prove that they are licensed to practise in the industry.  In some professions, such as law and accountancy, this is true, but it is not the case for digital and tech roles.

The previous standards also had a series of "knowledge qualifications" that have now been removed. Again, this reduces the assessment burden on apprentices and helps them focus on developing their skills rather than passing exams.

In deciding where to continue teaching content related to industry exams, we have taken a case-by-case approach weighing up whether they align to the new standards and whether they are valued in industry. For example, we have retained the content from two BCS courses in the Business Analyst programme, but Data Analyst doesn’t have a similar course that is widely accepted in industry, so we have focused on developing QA-authored content throughout.

What are “duties” and why is our role matcher important?

The new standards now include a list of duties to describe what each apprentice job role is expected to include. This is an important element as an apprentice will need the opportunity to work across the full range of duties in order to pass their End Point Assessment.

To help employers design apprentice job roles to meet the duties, we have developed new role matches, which show the duties in an easy-to-consume format. We believe it is crucial to align on the duties at the start of the programme to avoid disappointment for apprentices later in the programme. A member of your regular QA apprenticeship team can talk you through this user-friendly tool, alternatively get in touch to find out more.

Are the funding bands changing?

No, the funding bands remain unchanged, recognising the strategic importance of growing technology skills for the future health of the wide economy.

Do apprentices already on programme need to switch over?

No, the new standards are only relevant for apprentices starting their programme.

When will the changes come into effect?

The standards have switchover dates that are prescribed by IfATE. QA programmes in line with the new apprenticeship standards will launch on the following dates:

  • Software Dev L4: 1 June
  • Network Engineer: 1 June
  • Business Analysis: 1 June
  • Data Analyst (L4): 21 June
  • Information Communications Technician (L3): 12 July. This programme now includes two pathways:
    • Azure Cloud Support Technician
    • Network Technician (including AWS & Azure)
  • Cyber Security (L4): 31 July. Now extended to include three pathways, which we will launch separately.

There are two further standards that are still under review by employer groups, and dates for these standards will be communicated once final versions are approved by IfATE and the Department for Education. They are:

  • Software Dev (L3)
  • Digital Marketer (L3)

My colleagues across the QA apprenticeship delivery team have been working hard over the last few weeks to align all of our tech apprenticeships to the latest standards. If you have any questions, then do get in touch, we would be very happy to answer your queries about the new apprenticeship standards or tech apprenticeship programmes in general.

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