Trailblazer groups are responsible for developing occupational standards which form a key component of an apprenticeship and underpin T Levels and other IfATE approved technical qualifications. However, the following guidance relates to the development of apprenticeships only.

Trailblazers need to remain active once their apprenticeship is approved for delivery, to respond to any change requests. We also encourage trailblazer groups to promote their apprenticeships to potential users.

We have requirements for trailblazer groups and expectations on how they operate. This includes groups being made up of employers that represent the occupation and intend to employ apprentices in it.

Our product managers (PMs) lead our support for trailblazer groups through the entire process.


1. The role of trailblazer groups

With our support, the role of a trailblazer group is to:

We also ask that with our help you:

  • promote the apprenticeship to potential users
  • monitor performance of the apprenticeship
  • answer queries and helps to resolve any issues that may occur


2. Trailblazer group requirements

Below are the high-level requirements for a trailblazer group and how we will assess if your trailblazer group meets them.

The trailblazer group must:

be a group of employers recognised by IfATE and reflective of those who employ people in the occupation, including small employers

We will assess this by:

analysing the types (for example, size, sector) of employers who employ people in the occupation and scrutinising evidence that the trailblazer group membership reflects this.

IfATE has the power to convene a trailblazer group however, most groups are autonomous and self-forming. We want to ensure groups are inclusive and independent. We, therefore, have requirements relating to a group’s membership and how it operates. These apply where the trailblazer group is convened by IfATE or self-formed.

As a trailblazer group, you must:

  • not have an admission or membership fee
  • select a trailblazer chair (or co-chairs)
  • have the capacity to complete the work. We would not usually expect any one group to develop more than five apprenticeships. This is to avoid an unreasonable burden on one group and potential delays in development or revision work
  • as a collective represent the types of employers likely to use the apprenticeship. For example, sector, size, and geographical spread. Typically, this requires 10 to 20 employers
  • include members who are currently working in the occupation and/or who have recent experience of working in the occupation
  • seek advice and guidance from training providers and end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs), although all drafting decisions remain the sole responsibility of the employer members
  • seek advice and guidance from regulators and professional bodies that award professional status for the occupation where appropriate
  • seek advice and guidance from organisations with responsibility for defining skills standards in England and the wider UK for your industry - Sector Skills Councils or Sector Skills Bodies
  • seek the views of apprentices currently on programme and/or who have completed the apprenticeship to inform any revision

We need to approve your trailblazer group membership. Before doing so, we may request that you add specific new members as a condition of agreeing your occupation proposal to develop an apprenticeship.

As the trailblazer group chair, you must:

  • not have a financial interest or hold a director (or equivalent) position in an organisation that may profit from the group’s apprenticeship. This includes a training provider, EPAO and external quality assurance provider (EQAP). A chair may have a financial interest by virtue of their employment in an organisation that employs individuals in the occupation
  • confirm that you meet the above requirement
  • keep an active record of conflicts of interest in the Trailblazer group
  • be actively involved in the development process
  • ensure the group’s collective agreement to submitted documents and evidence
  • act as the key link between the group and the Institute
  • ensure the group’s membership remains representative of the employers likely to use the apprenticeship. This applies during development and after your apprenticeship is approved for delivery
  • agree to your contact details being published on your apprenticeship standard’s webpage. We publish details once we agree to a trailblazer group
  • be the main point of contact for the group
  • meet the same requirements as employer members

We allow co-chairs; both must meet these requirements.

As a trailblazer employer member, you must:

  • plan to serve on the group for at least two years
  • work for an organisation which employs or intends to employ apprentices in the occupation
  • agree to your name, contact details and employer’s name being held on IfATE's trailblazer portal
  • secure your employer’s agreement to your membership and to their name being published on the apprenticeship’s webpage. We publish details once we agree to a trailblazer group

Membership is based on an individual’s expertise, rather than as a representative of their organisation.


Non-employers invited to advise a trailblazer group

Non-employers may include apprentices or representatives of training providers, EPAOs, EQAPs, professional body(s), and regulator(s). Whilst we encourage them to participate, the group’s employers must make final decisions on the development approach and content of the apprenticeship.

In addition to the support received from IFATE Product Managers, some Trailblazers like to use a sector or skills body to support the development and revision of their apprenticeships. We welcome the involvement of any such organisation as long as decision making continues to rest with the employers, and the facilitator does not use their involvement with the Trailblazer to promote any wider services provided by their organisation.


Over-arching chairs

Trailblazer groups often work together. Some have an ‘over-arching chair,’ to ensure the work of the groups is joined up. Where this occurs, it is for the groups to decide who undertakes this role.


Actual or potential conflicts of interest

Trailblazer groups members, or individuals who support the group, must declare any conflict of interest. Conflicts of interests can include a perception of conflict of interest between your work with IfATE and your own interests. These could be financial or otherwise. A conflict of interest is a situation where you have many interests or loyalties and serving one of those interests could involve undermining or working against the other interest. An example would be your organisation having a financial interest in the apprenticeship’s delivery. It is always better to declare something that may be a conflict than to not declare. This allows the group to be aware of potential conflict and to act.

A declaration does not prevent your involvement with the Trailblazer group. It might mean that you do not ‘vote’ on some aspects or even leave the meeting for a part of the discussion. It is a fundamental part of the transparency and integrity of the process.

The Trailblazer Chair should keep a record of the declarations of interest. They should check for further declarations at each meeting.


Avoiding anti-competitive activity

One of the benefits of a trailblazer group is that it brings together representatives of a range of employers all of whom have their own experience of an occupation and what represents best practice. Whilst the sharing of information within a trailblazer group relating to this is key to developing an apprenticeship that is genuinely transferable, the trailblazer will need to take any steps which might be necessary to avoid anti-competitive activity. A way of addressing this adopted by one trailblazer group has been to read out this compliance statement at the beginning of each meeting reminding members of this point.


Confirming your trailblazer group’s details

You need to enter details about your trailblazer group in the trailblazer portal:

      • employer members
      • details of the chair or co-chairs
      • confirmation that the chair or co-chairs meet the trailblazer group chair requirements
      • details of any facilitator
      • details of any non-employer members

The information that you are required to provide in relation to each contact is their email address, name, and job title along their organisation’s name, type, main business activity, size and head office location. Providing telephone numbers and job descriptions is optional.

These details must be entered before you submit an occupation proposal. You need to keep them up to date, both during the development process and after the apprenticeship has been approved for delivery.

This information will be held in accordance with GDPR requirements. Contacts will generally only be contacted in relation to the occupational standards that they are developing (or have developed) except for Trailblazer chairs and/or facilitators who may occasionally also be sent wider ranging information about the apprenticeship programme and other technical education products. We may also use the information (anonymously) to analyse the make up of Trailblazers across the apprenticeship programme.


3. Trailblazer groups and IfATE working together

PMs lead our support for trailblazer groups. They work with a range of groups within the same routes. This enables them to develop sector knowledge and contacts.

Please email us if you want to develop a new apprenticeship, outlining the occupation.

Below we set out what IfATE and a trailblazer group should expect from each other.


Our support commitment

We will:

  • allocate a product manager who will lead our support for your trailblazer group
  • facilitate access to other IfATE specialist advice as required including a Route Manager as the proposal development stage and an assessment and assurance manager when developing the end-point assessment plan.
  • agree and commit to an apprenticeship development work plan, enabling your occupational standard and end-point assessment (EPA) plan to be published within nine months of your occupation proposal being agreed
  • operate in line with our published policy and processes
  • publish policy or process changes before asking you to comply with them
  • promote and celebrate your trailblazer group’s achievements in the process
  • provide periodic briefings to facilitators on policy and process changes
  • be open to feedback and aim to improve

Product managers will:

  • provide a briefing for new trailblazer chairs
  • facilitate contact with an experienced trailblazer group chair if required
  • provide advice and guidance on policy and process, advising on any changes that may impact your work
  • lead and facilitate workshops to develop your occupation proposal, occupational standard, EPA plan, and to collate funding evidence
  • lead on (or assist with) drafting documents, based on the group’s occupational expertise input
  • arrange support from other IfATE officials as needed
  • aim to provide feedback to queries and drafts within five working days, or advise where this may take longer
  • help you to work through any issues that may arise
  • attend trailblazer group meetings (this may be remote) to provide updates
  • aim to develop an understanding of the occupation and sector
  • give advance warning of any significant periods of annual leave, so workarounds can be arranged
  • provide periodic updates on the performance of your apprenticeship(s)


What we expect from trailblazer groups

You will:

  • agree and commit to an apprenticeship development work plan, enabling your occupational standard and end-point assessment (EPA) plan to be published within nine months of your occupation proposal being agreed
  • follow our published guidance to develop the occupation proposal, occupational standard and EPA planand to collate funding evidence
  • aim to meet on a regular basis (face-to-face or virtually) during the development process
  • provide your PM with opportunities to improve their understanding of the occupation and sector
  • respond to your PM in a reasonable time
  • allocate time at meetings for your PM to provide updates
  • give your PM as much notice as possible to attend meetings
  • tell us about any good news stories that we can help promote
  • tell us about any delivery and/or trailblazer group issues that we can help you resolve
  • work inclusively and collaborate with other employers or trailblazer groups. For example, those who want to develop an apprenticeship for the same or a related occupation
  • provide guidance to new chairs or groups if requested
  • provide feedback on process and policy improvements via periodic surveys


Travel fund

We have a travel fund to reimburse small employers (that is those with fewer than 50 employees) for the reasonable costs involved in travelling to trailblazer group meetings. Our claiming travel costs guide provides details on what can be claimed and how.


Engaging training providers

To deliver apprenticeship training, training providers must be on the Apprenticeship provider and assessment register service (APAR).

Training providers can be:

  • universities
  • higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • further education colleges,
  • private training organisations
  • employer-providers

Training providers can provide input and feedback during the development process. They may also help with consultation and promotion. You must provide us with typical training delivery information to inform our funding band recommendation for your apprenticeship. This includes information and evidence related to: typical delivery methods, necessary consumable costs, and mandatory qualification fees. To gather this information, you may wish to work with or seek advice from stakeholders for example, training providers. Further information on these requirements is available on the Allocating a funding band webpage.

In addition, to support from your PM, provider networks can help you contact training providers:


Engaging end-point assessment organisations

EPA must be undertaken by an organisation on the Apprenticeship provider and assessment register service  for the specific apprenticeship.

EPAOs can provide input and feedback during the development process. They may also help with consultation and promotion. You need at least one quote from an EPAO for delivering the end-point assessment to inform our funding band recommendation for your apprenticeship.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will not fund apprentices to start on a new apprenticeship until an EPAO has given an ‘in principle’ commitment to deliver the EPA or an EPAO has made a successful application to the register (whichever is earliest).

To support this, you need to engage with at least one potential EPAO(s) early in the apprenticeship development process.

Any such EPAOs need to complete a form to share information about their intent to apply to the RoEPAO to deliver EPA for your specific apprenticeship.

The ‘in principle’ organisation will still need to make a successful application to the RoEPAO before they will be able to assess apprentices who are on programme.

The ‘in principle’ agreement will mean the ESFA can have greater confidence that there will be an EPAO on the Register for every apprenticeship as quickly as possible and as soon as they will be needed.

In addition, to support from your PM, the ESFA can help you get in touch with an EPAO. They can also help potential EPAOs to complete the ‘in principle’ forms. You or EPAOs can contact the ESFA at apprentice.assessment@education.gov.uk

The ESFA has guidance for organisations applying to be an EPAO.


4. Withdrawing IfATE support

In exceptional circumstances, IfATE may withdraw its support for a trailblazer group to develop an apprenticeship. This would mean that the group was no longer approved by IfATE to develop an apprenticeship. This may be applied at any time in the development process for any of the following reasons:

Occupation-related reasons:

  • there is no prospect of the occupation proposal, occupational standard or EPA plan meeting our quality criteria
  • the trailblazer group confirms that another apprenticeship meets their requirements and no longer wishes to develop the apprenticeship


Trailblazer group-related reasons:

  • the trailblazer group refuses to - or is unable to - comply with apprenticeship policy in the development of their occupation proposal, occupational standard or EPA plan
  • the trailblazer group fails to submit an occupation proposal within six-months of contacting us, or an occupational standard and EPA plan within nine-months of its occupation proposal being agreed for development, except where there are, in the opinion of IfATE, reasonable mitigating circumstances
  • IfATE considers that the trailblazer group no longer has the support of a representative cross-section of employers in the occupational area, or refuses to work with other individual employers or groups of employers when requested to do so by us

If such a scenario develops, your PM will discuss the issue with you prior to any decision to withdraw our support being made.

Where support is withdrawn from a trailblazer group and the occupation is listed on an occupational map, we will consider whether it should remain on the map.


5. Contact

For any queries relating to the potential development of a new apprenticeship please contact our enquires team via Enquiries.IFA@education.gov.uk


Last updated 1 Nov 2023
(AT, AG)