Updated 1 July 2020
The Institute is committed to supporting you, and the whole sector, through these challenging and exceptional circumstances.
This document includes answers to questions we have been asked about the impact of COVID-19 on apprenticeships and how we are responding.
We have also published a guidance note which describes how training providers, end-point assessment organisations (EPAO) and external quality assurance providers (EQAP) are expected to approach decisions relating to end-point assessments.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency has also published guidance on the impact of COVID-19 on apprenticeships and its response.
If you have a question that is not covered please contact us at Enquiries.IFA@education.gov.uk and we will come back to you as quickly as possible and update the FAQ answers below as appropriate.
I have a question for the Department for Education or the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). Where should I go?
The DfE has set up a coronavirus helpline for education related queries, including questions on funding.
You can get in touch via 0800 046 8687 between 8am-6pm (Monday to Friday), or by emailing DfE.email@example.com.
Information is also available about COVID-19 programme response on GOV.UK
I’m an apprentice. This situation is confusing and I need some help – who should I contact?
Apprentices should get in contact with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) for advice.
Telephone: 0800 0150 600
I owe the Institute a payment. Is there any help available during this difficult time?
We recognise that some of our customers may face disruption or operational difficulties during this challenging period. The Institute is sensitive to the needs of our suppliers, particularly in the current circumstances. Please get in touch with our team on DfE.TREASURY@education.gov.uk if you would like to discuss any payment issues.
I’m involved in delivery of apprenticeship training or assessment, and I’m concerned about the financial impact of the current crisis. Who can I talk to about this?
The sector is going to face major financial challenges and we know the government is working hard to support a great many people and businesses across the economy as a whole, for instance with the furloughed workers scheme where people’s wages can be paid up to 80 per cent. We also know that taxes have been deferred and interest-free loans are available alongside the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
So we are hopeful that employers and providers will be able to take advantage of those schemes to help them keep going through the worst of the outbreak.
Information on measures for businesses is available from the Treasury.
What is happening to consultations on EQA and funding?
The Institute understands that, due to the current COVID-19 situation, individuals and organisations may have found it challenging to respond to our consultations within the initial timescales. As a result, we extended both of these consultations by six weeks.
Our consultation on a new model for recommending apprenticeship funding bands closed on Monday 18 May. We will use feedback from this to develop a more refined model, which will be subject to a second consultation.
Our consultation on a simplified and strengthened model of EQA of apprenticeship standards closed on Thursday 21 May.
We are now reviewing responses and considering timelines for introducing any changes in the light of the current COVID-19 situation.
Are the Institute’s route reviews going ahead?
We are continuing to work on preparing the reviews internally, but there will be no further external progression or announcements.
Stakeholder engagement and effective consultation with employers are at the heart of the Institute’s approach to route reviews and this is constrained presently. We are also committed to providing as much stability as possible whilst the apprenticeship system responds to the disruption brought about by COVID-19.
It has therefore been decided to pause the ongoing route reviews and to postpone the announcement of any outcomes. When the circumstances ease, it our intention to return to the ongoing reviews and we will continue to make preparations for this in the meantime.
We had announced that the care services and health and science route reviews would be expected to launch during summer 2020. The impact of COVID-19 makes this inadvisable, so we have made the decision to delay the launch until further notice.
The outcomes of the digital route review are now complete, so we will continue to work with trailblazer groups, where we are able.
Is the Institute continuing with the development of new apprenticeship standards and procurement of new T Level Qualifications?
Yes. Where trailblazers are able to continue development of new standards, this work carries on, including consultations on new standards (which will be extended from 10 to 12 days).
Following approval for T Levels in:
The development and procurement of remaining T Level qualifications continue, including consultations on T Level outline content.
We believe we have a responsibility to keep this work going for the apprentices and students of the future but will keep this approach under review.
Is the Institute continuing to make funding revisions?
We are continuing with essential funding revisions where employers have asked for them, but have paused any new ones we were planning on carrying out proactively.
We want to support employers and training providers by ensuring that wherever possible, we ease additional pressures during COVID-19.
Why is EPA not being estimated when general qualifications and some technical qualifications are?
A Levels, GCSEs and some technical qualifications are a rung on the middle of the educational ladder, usually undertaken at a specific age.
University or college selection relies on these grades being available at the right time.
An apprenticeship is a job with training. An EPA is taken at an appropriate time to confirm an individual programme of learning has been completed and the apprentice is occupationally competent.
In many cases, the conclusion of an apprenticeship amounts to a licence to practice which, in turn, has safety and responsibility implications.
EPA works to protect quality apprenticeships for both apprentices and employers – and to estimate it would undermine that. That is why our focus is on providing flexibilities to support apprenticeships and EPA continuing wherever possible.
Can you be more flexible on when and how EPA can take place?
The guidance allows for some additional flexibilities.
Where requests are made for flexibilities outside of our guidance, we will consider them on a case by case basis. In order to do this, the Institute may bring together a series of taskforces to look at whether further flexibilities are possible and desirable for specific standard(s). These groups will bring together relevant employers, EQAPs, EPAOs and Institute officials.
Where more significant changes to an assessment plan are required, the chairs of both the trailblazer and route panel need to be satisfied that the proposed flexibility meets the needs of employers. As with all flexibilities, these will only apply for the minimum period necessary to address difficulties posed by the current COVID-19 crisis.
For more information on how we agree with flexibilities and discretions.
Will the Institute be prioritising certain apprenticeship standards to determine what flexibilities in assessment methods are appropriate in the current climate?
Yes. Standards where EPAs are planned within the next few months and where volumes are high have been identified. Other factors are also relevant, for example, standards in key occupations or where apprentices could most easily produce evidence. We are working with EQAPs to discuss whether further flexibilities are possible in these cases.
We would encourage EQAPs to consider how they might best co-ordinate questions and proposed flexibilities raised by EPAOs offering standards within their remit.
Why are you asking EQAPs to approve the use of certain flexibilities?
We are confident that EQAPs have the right expertise to take these decisions. Knowledge of the sector and how EPA is delivered within that sector is critical to taking these decisions and EQAPs are practised in making these judgements. The Institute continues to oversee EQA, as set out in our EQA framework, which makes our expectations clear about the role and remit of EQAPs.
How can you be sure that flexibilities are being applied consistently and to the right quality?
We want to maintain quality. Assessment should be as comparable and valid as possible across different EPAOs, so that the assessment apprentices take during this time has currency with employers. To this end, it is important that EQAPs are involved to ensure that flexibilities are applied in a consistent way where the delivery of a particular assessment method is being adapted, and that EQA continues to take place in line with our EQA framework.
I’ve contacted my EQAP to discuss a flexibility, but not had a response. What should I do?
You should approach the relevant EQAP in the first instance when seeking to apply flexibility to delivery of a specific standard. Where the EQAP does not reply to this query within 48 hours you should make contact with the Institute at Enquiries.IFA@education.gov.uk.
Can EPA still take place in person? And Is it acceptable for apprentices, employers, assessors to travel to undertake EPA?
Yes, providing it is safe to do so. Please refer to the latest government guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)
We have apprentices who have completed their training, including mandatory qualifications and maths and English requirements. Should they progress to their gateway review by the employer and training provider?
Yes, and gateway sign-off can be conducted remotely, with the agreement of the apprentice, employer and provider. If the assessment plan requires apprentices to take their EPA within a certain amount of time after they complete the gateway process, this can be extended if necessary. The EPAO must log each instance and share with their EQAP on a timely basis.
Why is the Institute requiring EPAOs to log all COVID-19 related actions?
To support our responsibility for oversight of EQA and quality of apprenticeships. It is important that we and our EQAPs have access to information on how EPA has been impacted by the current circumstances. EQAPs may audit this information in future and it may inform future EQA activity.
Why aren’t all EQA audits being paused?
EQAPs play an important role in gathering evidence and monitoring what is happening with end-point assessment organisations.
It is appropriate that EQAPs are able to review how flexibilities in EPA are being delivered in practice.
We have asked EQAPs not to conduct in-person audits at this time and they should not resume these until government guidance allows this.
Can furloughed staff be registered onto an apprenticeship if all the conditions for starting an apprenticeship are in place?
Yes, in some circumstances. Please check ESFA guidance on this topic which covers specific issues that an employer should consider before enrolling furloughed staff on an apprenticeship.
Can training continue for furloughed apprentices?
Yes, where apprentices are furloughed, they can continue to train for their apprenticeship. As long as they do not provide services to, or generate revenue for, their employer.
Can EPA organisations still complete EPA for a furloughed worker?
Yes, EPA can still be completed for a furloughed worker. However, the apprentice must adhere to official guidance on furlough. If you are concerned that this would not allow EPA to take place, please see the above FAQ “Can you be more flexible on when and how EPA can take place?”.
Can employers decide not to allow an apprentice to undertake their EPA, given the circumstances?
During the current crisis, many employers are having to make tough decisions.
In some cases, apprentices have been asked to work extra hours or be redeployed to priority roles. In such cases, an assessment may not be a priority for the employer or apprentice.
Our guidance allows apprentices to pause so that they can take EPA at a more appropriate time. In many cases, this will be the most appropriate option. But employers should do all they can to help apprentices to undertake EPA in order to complete their apprenticeship and receive their certificate.
Will the apprenticeship system as a whole be paused?
The Institute is remaining flexible to ensure that apprenticeships can continue, whilst also retaining the integrity of apprenticeships.
Many employers do still wish apprenticeships to proceed and in many cases, they can. It would be unfair to many apprentices and their employers to pause their apprenticeship where training and EPA can still be delivered.
This must be balanced against the need to maintain the quality of apprenticeships as a measure of occupational competence as far as possible. In some standards, delivery of EPA will not be possible and apprentices on these standards may have to be paused at some point.
Given the circumstances, will the Institute reconsider its position around mandated on-programme qualifications?
The Institute only allows qualifications to be mandated in apprenticeship standards where the trailblazer group have met certain, very tightly defined conditions. For this reason, our view is that they must be achieved, as employers have told us that apprentices who do not hold these qualifications will not be considered occupationally competent by employers.
Ofqual has published a consultation on proposed arrangements for awarding vocational and technical qualifications at this time. These arrangements will give effect to the government’s policy that learners who are taking vocational and technical qualifications for progression to further education, higher education and through to employment should, where possible, be issued results this summer in order to allow them to progress.
These arrangements will affect many mandatory qualifications within apprenticeship standards, including functional skills. You should speak to the relevant awarding organisation to confirm what is happening to any particular mandatory qualifications you have an interest in.