30 May 2023

Time for Change: Measuring quality in apprenticeship delivery

Simon Ashworth, Director of Policy for the AELP, outlines how the government could modernise the way success and quality is measured within apprenticeships.

Since the advent of apprenticeship standards and the wider apprenticeship reforms, AELP has regularly questioned whether the current success rate methodology informing Qualification Achievement Rates (QAR) is fit for purpose.

The existing methodology goes back to historic qualification-based apprenticeship frameworks. These types of apprenticeships have, of course, mostly been phased out and replaced by longer apprenticeship standards. The new standards are longer and harder and are based on knowledge, skills, and behaviours as well as including external validation through end-point assessment.

There have been some welcome tweaks to the rules and measures, such as extending the period of change of employer to up to 12 weeks through a break in learning, but these haven’t gone far enough, fast enough. As a result, we still see huge problems with the measure. For example, the way the QAR calculates overall success can in some scenarios count the same apprentice as a non-completion on multiple occasions, yet successful completions are only ever counted once. The methodology also avoids taking account of how employers, and learners, are reacting to a tight labour market with large levels of churn.

Although we recognise that accurately and appropriately measuring quality in apprenticeship delivery is an important factor in ensuring accountability, the outdated model needs to change. Disaggregating achievements should be a priority. Having such a broad range of sectors and occupations available means there are significant variations and the underpinning rationale on labour market and occupational specific challenges get lost in any narrative.

Alongside this, we are calling for five other changes to the framework which would deliver a more accurate accountability system. These are:

  • Removing the QAR Pass Rate measure and replacing it with a pass rate that relates to EPA. Assessment is a key facet of the reformed system and needs greater transparency and oversight.

  • Extend data capture via the Individual Learner Record (ILR) to include a range of reasons for withdrawal (non-completion). The current data capture fields on the ILR are too narrow to fully collect enough data on the underlying reason for non-completion.

  • Make the methodology more reflective of quality by removing withdrawals that are out of the providers’ control from the QAR measures, such as if the apprentice has been dismissed from their job.

  • Expand the methodology to include wider success measures. In further education, though longitudinal outcomes remain underdeveloped as a tool, measuring earnings and other indicators of success such as promotion and progression, would give a fuller picture.

  • Develop a more inclusive set of accountability measures that better reflect the role of employers and their specific behaviours in the wider apprenticeship system. This should include capturing feedback from providers and apprentices on their experiences. 

These changes would go a long way to modernising the way we measure success and quality within apprenticeship and in turn would give both employers and learners the widest possible information when it comes to making their choice of which qualification to undertake.


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