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Training a new generation: Preparing apprentices for assessments

Are your social care apprentices assessment-ready? Paul Kelly, Ofqual Deputy Responsible Officer at Professional Assessment Ltd, shares his top five tips on how to ensure your apprentices have the support they need to pass with flying colours.

The social care sector continues to be troubled by staff shortages and, when we also consider the residual trauma experienced by teams working on the front line during the pandemic, training and equipping staff with the knowledge to cope with challenging situations has become more important than ever.

For firms struggling to meet skills gaps in their teams, offering apprenticeships for staff at all levels of the business will help to close these gaps. The schemes also help to foster loyalty by showing they are prepared to invest money and effort in boosting the skills and qualifications of their workforce.

If you’re considering introducing an apprenticeship programme, there are steps you can take to provide the learning and development opportunities that will help people perform to the best of their abilities. It’s essential to consider existing apprentices as well and how you can best support them.

National apprenticeship standards have come a long way in recent years, helping apprentices acquire a broader understanding of the industry they work in. The standards also ensure people have developed the skills, knowledge and behaviours to be job-ready on completion.  Apprenticeship qualifications are therefore a good benchmark of the skillset and competence required for a specific job role in a particular sector.

In line with these new standards, a combination of methods is currently used to assess apprenticeships, helping to produce highly skilled workers who meet a national standard.

There is much you can do as an employer to help your apprentices to do the best they can at assessment time. Here are my five top tips:

1. Familiarise yourself with assessment plans

Ask your training provider for its assessment plan. This will give a clear outline of each assessment method that will be used to grade your apprentice, which gives you the opportunity to support them in preparing for their end-point assessment from early on in their apprenticeship.

For example, if a portfolio of work is required, encourage them to think about the aspects of their day-to-day work that would be worth reflecting on and including in their evidence of what they have learned.

Assessment plans also include useful practical details, such as how long any formal assessment will take. Providing the apprentice with this information earlier in their training will go a long way to helping them feel prepared and in control.

2. Get to grips with Professional Discussion

Professional Discussion (PD) has become an increasingly popular means of assessing apprenticeships at all levels. Essentially, it’s a two-way conversation between an assessor and an apprentice. PDs centre around a list of set questions aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the level of knowledge an apprentice has about their role.

This is an ideal opportunity for apprentices to show their skills and expertise in a less formal setting. However, it’s natural they may feel nervous at the prospect of taking part in an interview. To help ease their nerves, give them a chance to practise through mock PDs where you ask them questions. If possible – and if they feel comfortable – film those so they can watch them back and review their performance.

Above all, remind apprentices that PDs aren’t an interrogation, but instead a great opportunity to show how much they have learned. Giving apprentices plenty of opportunities to practise will help them feel more confident in presenting their ideas, giving evidence and communicating clearly.

3. Hold mock observations

Being observed by an assessor in their workplace gives an apprentice the opportunity to show their practical ‘real-world’ skills and behaviours. However, as with PD assessments, they might feel nervous about this, so it’s a good idea to give them the chance to practise an observation scenario.

My advice would be don’t necessarily pick a quiet shift to hold a practice observation, as there’s every chance a formal assessment will take place in a busy period. Your apprentice is likely to feel far more overwhelmed if they haven’t had a chance to practise an observation at busy times.

4. Preparing for a written exam

Some apprenticeships include a formal written test, which is also a common source of nerves. Exams are held on a closed book basis and usually centre on multiple choice or short answer questions, so it’s important for apprentices to have a good factual understanding of skills and issues relating to their role.

To help ease any pre-exam nerves, remind apprentices to give themselves time and read the questions carefully. There are no trick questions and it’s simply a case of achieving a pass.

5. Create opportunities for success

It may sound obvious, but some apprentices will naturally perform better in certain assessment scenarios than others. For example, some will thrive in the context of a professional discussion while for others, missing out on the chance to gather their thoughts and revisit their answers as they would in a written assessment could hinder their performance.

Once you have an idea of which assessment methods will best suit your apprentice, play to their strengths and give them the chance to practise those first. This will help build their confidence as they progress to prepare for the assessment styles they’re less comfortable with.

Following these top tips will help both employers and their apprentices to better prepare for the assessment, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. End-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) are on hand to support employers through the process and there are a number of useful resources available. For instance, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has published a video with a simple overview of some of the most common assessment methods used for apprenticeships.

Annual celebration 

The sixteenth annual National Apprenticeship Week will take place from 6th to 12th February 2023. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), which supports thousands of businesses to design apprenticeships to fill national skills gaps and uphold their quality for the good of apprentices, will work with a network of employers, inspiring apprentices from its Panel of Apprentices and colleagues across Government to promote this exciting time in the skills calendar.

National Apprenticeship Week is an annual week-long celebration of apprenticeships, showcasing the brilliant impact apprenticeships can have on communities, local businesses, and regional economies and how they all benefit from the impact of apprenticeships.

Jennifer Coupland, Chief Executive of IfATE, said, ‘National Apprenticeship Week is such an important time to celebrate everything that is great about apprenticeships and IfATE will be throwing our weight behind it in 2023. It’s the perfect opportunity to promote all the incredible opportunities that apprenticeships now provide to get a foot on the careers ladder and progress to the top, push forward with levelling up right across the country, and support the green agenda.

‘There are now almost 650 apprenticeships to train people for a huge variety of jobs, across all the different sectors, from entry right up to senior management level. That covers level two right up to degree level. Apprenticeships still cover all the traditional trades, like plumbing and hairdressing, but now they also train people to become nurses, laboratory technicians, aerospace engineers, countryside rangers, digital designers and much more.’

The celebration, which takes place across England, highlights how apprenticeships have helped employers of all sizes and sectors, and people of all ages and backgrounds. It is always a brilliant chance to celebrate everything that’s great about work-based training and bring the whole sector together.

Endless opportunities

Ofqual’s Executive Director for Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Catherine Large, delivered a speech at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference 2022 in March and spoke of Ofqual’s motivation to improve assessment quality. Catherine took the opportunity to invite an open dialogue with those engaged in the apprenticeships sector and asked delegates to provide feedback on assessments. She told delegates that Ofqual wants those working in the apprenticeship area to help Ofqual continue to ensure that the assessments taken by apprentices and used by employers are as ‘valid’ and ‘reliable’ as they can possibly be. Most importantly, it’s the people taking the assessments who must continue to be encouraged. While it’s natural to find any assessment potentially daunting – especially when it involves working with residents or patients – just remind apprentices that they’re an opportunity to show off just how many skills and how much knowledge they’ve gained and to make the most of it through thorough preparation.

Paul Kelly is the Ofqual Deputy Responsible Officer at Professional Assessment Ltd. Email:  Twitter: ProfAssessment

For more information about Professional Assessment Ltd, visit


About Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly Is the Qualification Director at Professional Assessment Limited and is the Ofqual deputy Responsible Officer at Professional Assessment Limited.
With a career in education and assessment spanning twenty-five years, Paul has held a wide variety of roles ranging from teaching and leading in secondary, further and higher education institutions, performing the GCSE Chief Examiner function, designing qualification and assessments, and leading on regulatory and compliance for a number of Awarding Organisations and End-point Assessment Organisations.
Paul specialises in ensuring the validity and reliability of qualifications and endpoint assessment and has vast experience in operational and strategic leadership for assessment design and delivery.

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