Chris Jones  0:04  
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of Ofsted Talks. Today, we're talking all about apprenticeships, and I've got a stellar lineup of guests with me to talk about what is an incredibly important topic. So get them to introduce themselves. First of all, we've got Ian Bamford in tell us about who you are and what you do. 

Ian Bamford  0:25  
Thanks, Chris. Hi, I'm Ian Bamford, I'm the Chief Operating Officer for Paragon skills. We're a national training provider, predominantly focusing on health care, childcare, education, but also some service sectors such as Business Admin, customer service and management. And yet we predominantly work in apprenticeship sector levels to right the way through to level five we don't work in higher apprenticeships. And the I've been at Paragon skills for about seven years now. 

Chris Jones  0:55  
Thank you, Ian. And I'll go to Jess next. 

Jess  0:58  
Hello, my name is Jess I'm a manager at Way Ahead Leisure Pursuits limited. This is a day service with people with learning disabilities. We have three services and a respite unit. 

Chris Jones  1:12  
Excellent. Okay. And Alex

Alex Grant  1:17  
I'm Alex, I'm one of the directors at Way Ahead Leisure Pursuits limited. We have a range of cohorts going through on training programmes. I'm a social worker by background but I've also done lots of training in the past and that's been quite useful to try and help staff grow and develop. And obviously we are quite lucky in that we have a dedicated training provider which makes it quite easy for us to try and help progress people. Some of them have may not have had a very positive learning experience previously.

Chris Jones  1:46  
Great and we have Ofsted's own Paul Joyce. Paul. 

Paul Joyce  1:49  
Hi, Chris, hi colleagues. So I'm Paul Joyce, and I'm Deputy Director for further education and skills at Ofsted.

Chris Jones:

Now, I'm going to start with with the big picture if you like because you have to those of us who aren't steeped in further education and skills and training on a day to day basis like you all are here. There is a there's a wide range of kind of routes for people to go down isn't there and apprenticeships is just one of them.
And I invite Paul perhaps just to say a few words about all the different training providers that Ofsted inspects and where apprenticeships fits into that landscape, if you wouldn't mind, Paul? 

Paul Joyce  2:28  
Sure, Chris. Thank you. So we've got about 2000 providers in FE and skills that we inspect. The vast majority of those providers do offer apprenticeship provision. Many of them offer other types of provision as well. But apprenticeship is by far the largest provider type we inspect. And since the introduction of the apprenticeship Levy, we've seen about 1500 brand new providers into the market primarily for apprenticeship training. And that's most of the work that we do now. As Chris says provider monitoring visits to new providers and inspection of apprenticeship provision. 

Chris Jones  3:09  
Thank you very much.  Ian presumably you've been on the end of an Ofsted inspection?

Ian Bamford  3:14  
I'm actually an Ofsted inspector myself a part time inspector.  I've been on both sides, actually. So yeah, I've been a nominee probably five times now on the in a number of providers. But also I've carried out over 100 inspections as well, since I've been with Ofsted on a part time basis. 

Chris Jones  3:31  
Right so in terms of bit more about your work on apprenticeships specifically. 

Ian Bamford  3:37  
So in terms of apprenticeships, we work with mainly adult care, childcare, education, leadership and management and the service sector we work with a number of large levy organisations so when you say larger levy organisations, they are paying a contribution towards the apprenticeship Levy. We also work with SMEs small and medium enterprises. And again, that can be a combination of small independent nurseries, it can be small, independent care homes, and we've really sort of shifted that focus since the introduction of the levy in 2017. Because spreading your cohort across a number of different sectors meant that you weren't able to specialise in the particular areas and actually weren't able to give the relevant training towards the knowledge skills and behaviours within apprenticeship standard. 

Chris Jones  4:30  
Right. Okay, so you're in a good position to tell us about how that's changed over time. What's the kind of what's the latest state of play in the apprenticeship sector and what's been the kind of COVID impact on that? 

Ian Bamford  4:44  
The biggest impact of COVID obviously, has been the way that we've worked with learners and employers is very much switched to remote delivery. We were in a very fortunate position because actually pre COVID We were working towards changing our delivery models.  So we did do more remote delivery, which was good for us because we were able to switch literally overnight to start delivering remote delivery through our learning management platform through teams. And that enabled us to really work with learners. I think on a more regular basis, when it was face to face, we were perhaps seeing learners probably once every six weeks, now we're able to interact, teach, train, and engage with our learners probably every one or two weeks. And I think what we have also seen, as we've seen, learners actually respond really well to the change of delivery delivery method. And in particular, within the adult care sector, there have been some real challenges as part of COVID. And I'm sure it'd be the same within way ahead. Leisure has been some real challenges in terms of the COVID implications, the number of staff that are within care homes or within nurseries that actually were off with COVID, it meant that we actually be very flexible in terms of working with our learners working with our employers, sometimes a very short notice, an apprentice would have to be pulled off of a training session, and actually go there and do the day to day running, if you like of aspects within the care home. So it's been a real challenge in terms of working with our learners. However, we're going through the other side of that now, COVID is still there, we're still having the same sorts of issues around staff absences, and staff issues. However, the remote delivery enables us to really be flexible in terms of meeting at particular times, rather than having to travel 50-60 miles to go and see somebody face to face, it's really helped around that.

Chris Jones  6:40  
Yeah, that's all sounds, all sounds good. And lots of practical challenges, but also some opportunities. As as a result, as, as in so many sectors, just tell us a bit about how the pandemic has impacted you.

Jess  6:56  
Because I'm doing a level five at the moment, but it did impact me was getting my work done, because we had staff off so much with sickness, I've had to go on the floor and support the clients and have to cancel meetings, as well as I still keep in contact with the learners that you've got here as well that are doing levels. And it was quite hard at first like everything's done remotely when they would come in and shadow, watch the staff and everything. But now everything's done by feedback and appraisals. But it's worked really well. And they're all the all the all the tutors are very good at keeping in contact with you setting up meetings and get to know them through teams.

Chris Jones  7:42  
Yeah. So just so you you are you both doing an apprenticeship and looking after trainees? Yes, yeah. Okay, so that puts you in an interesting position, isn't it? Yeah. So

Jess  7:52  
I see both sides. Yeah.

Chris Jones  7:54  
Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship, 

Jess  7:56  
Because I've already done and NVQ, three, and ILM to an NVQ. Five. And now I'm doing an ILM five.

Chris Jones  8:05  
So it's just a natural kind of progression for you. Is it? 

Jess  8:08  
Yes it just gives me gives me more knowledge of my job. And you can never not learn. Can you?

Chris Jones  8:14  
Yeah, that's true. Yeah, that's true. All right. Alex, I'll come to you kind of what's the what's the current landscape? From your perspective? What are the current challenges and opportunities?

Alex Grant  8:25  
Well, I mean, Ian and Jess have covered some of them. You know, it's been a really tough couple of years, you know, and it's right when they said, Well, everybody's I remember the first day, the pandemic, and they said, Everybody's got to stay at home. And I drove across Southampton, and I saw two other cars, because we had to keep going, because we support individuals whose mums were nurses. So if we didn't provide the care, they couldn't go in and work in the hospital. So we had to keep going. And so the first few months were quite sort of stressful. But actually, what we found is there's some been some real benefits from COVID. And, as Ian said, you know, we've moved to more sort of remote learning, and one of the things I think that's really good is, is that through using teams, the cohorts of learners have been able to have more group sessions. And I think that's been really useful because actually, whereas before, they might have a one on one with their with their tutor. Now, actually, you can have three people on the same course you might be in three different bases, whereas logistically, we couldn't, you know, get them all in one place to have a meeting before they can now have a group meeting group session, and they learn not, you know, they learn not just from their tutor, but they learn from their peers as well and they can share worries and concerns and I think that's been a real positive I think there's a much more sort of ethos of having a cohort of learners all progressing together and supporting each other and the support from Paragon is excellent. Jess's support of the of the staff is fantastic, but actually what's really nice is when you see them supporting each other saying Why didn't I understand this question or how that relates to help out that bit that I do at work and someone else will intervene. So they have like a what they might have a whatsapp communication, and someone else will put, you know, another learner who's perhaps had a really negative experience of learner will then sort of say, well, actually, I thought it could be this and this is why and It's really nice to see them learning together, people come into social care quite often, they may not have had a chance to go to university, they might have a very sort of poor education experience. They're very hesitant to learn. And then you know, you actually, so it's like, it's great to see like Jess, she's gone from the three to the fourth. I've got people doing that, too. So we've got one learner, I think, who's 71 is doing doing their level two? And it's great. You know, that's what should be always when you heard the term apprenticeship, I used to think, oh, you know, 18 year 16 to 18 year old, actually, modern apprenticeships, is everyone learning. At Paragon, as Ian said they've worked to have specialisms who rather do a lot of different types of qualifications or areas of qualification. They've specialised, and what's really good is that are linked with Paragon, they understand the business, and they understand the role, and they understand the demands on the staff. And so I think that's been, I don't know if that's unique, but it's certainly been really useful for us. Because when when staff raise something with their tutor, the tutor knows what the role involves, and knows what the challenges are. And I think that's been really beneficial as well.

Chris Jones  11:05  
That's great to hear. Thanks, Alex. Now, Paul, come back to you for a second. So Ian, and Jess and Alex have spoken about some of the challenges and opportunities of of the pandemic and also, more broadly in the sector at the moment. offsets obviously done plenty of work in the last couple of years on on apprenticeships, and how does that stack up with what we're finding more broadly.

Paul Joyce  11:26  
And, Chris, I think you're right, we've just heard a good example there of some of the challenges and opportunities that exist. And we've certainly seen that through the monitoring that we've done, sort of through the pandemic. And indeed, some of the inspection work we do now. I mean, it's in apprenticeships are great, we've heard a really good example there, where providers work really closely with employers who work really closely with their staff. And that three way relationship, when it works, it works really well. And it provides a really valuable learning programme. So it's really nice to hear that you've got providers, employers and apprentices speaking so highly of the programme.

Alex Grant  12:09  
And actually, I have to say the other thing, there's a fourth sort of person involved as well. So we've worked really well with the apprenticeship hub, the southern apprenticeship hub, because they've been really helpful in using the apprenticeship levy so that I can get the funding in to get more learners on the programme. So although it's a three way process, actually, there's a fourth partnership, that really helps as well. So just think it's worth a mention that making sure that we could plug it into some of the courses are really expensive. And we as a small business couldn't afford that. But the apprenticeship Levy, is fantastic. 

Paul Joyce  12:40  
That's good to hear collaborations working well. Alex, we, we do see that on a lot of the activity we carry out. But sadly, that's not yet universal. You know, we we do need to improve apprenticeship practice. So we share best practice. And you know, it's it's a good experience everywhere, we've worked really hard on the levy transfer, which basically enables small, small employers that have reached either their cap of 10 learners or unable to contribute the 5%. We're actually we use the large levy organisations to support that. And they use their levy money to support those small and medium organisations. So we've worked quite hard on that, because we realised that there was a real gap in terms of that information and sharing a practice. So it's good to hear that. That's working really well.

Chris Jones  13:29  
Jess, I want to come back to you because I'm interested in your experience of actually being an apprentice because it must be difficult balancing the demands of the of the course itself with the day job.

Jess  13:42  
Yeah, so it can be difficult, I do tend to do a lot of my learning from home, in the evenings or something. But it was really good, as I've seen the different the changes from pm coming out to visit you and doing and having your meetings with your assessor in the service to going to remotely. And I think, to be honest, I find it a lot better doing it remotely. Because it can be done in your time. If you're running 10 minutes late, you can just email your assessor and just say, I'm really sorry, I've been stuck at work. I'll be 10 minutes. 

Chris Jones  14:21  
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And is it how straightforward is it to kind of take what you learn back into your into your work? Can you do that straight away?

Jess  14:30  
Yes, because I've got very good assessor, and he's very good at explaining things to me and how and how my my ILM can relate to my job and everything is related to my job what I'm doing now.

Chris Jones  14:44  
Yeah, that's good, isn't it? And so, what what do you think you'll do after you finished your apprenticeship without how will that help you?

Jess  14:52  
It just gives me more understanding about managing my team and different conflicts that can happen in between the team and how Different. All my staff like to learn or when I speak to them how different I need to speak to one member of staff to a different another member of staff.

Chris Jones  15:10  
Yeah. Oh, that sounds great. I'm sure my my team at work would say I benefit from a bit of that, a bit of that training that you're getting just that sounds really good. Do you think do you think you'll carry on learning and developing after you've done this apprenticeship?

Jess  15:24  
I've said no to after after every four of them, so I can never say no.

Chris Jones  15:29  
Okay, so as a chance, Paul, you mentioned that the example of of good practice that we're hearing about here is, is not universal? I think it's fair to say that we see that through through our inspections, isn't it? We've we've expressed some some concerns about the the apprenticeship landscape and the quality of some apprenticeships, suddenly.

Paul Joyce  15:50  
Yeah, we have Chris, I think the the important thing to say is, fortunately, the majority of apprenticeship provision we do see is, is of good quality. And we do see things like remote learning, which obviously has its place, although it won't replace face to face, but when it's done properly, it can work really well and can be really powerful. The thing, Chris, with apprenticeship provision we've heard here, but you know, a really strong case where there's a need for it, where employers want it, where employers are working really well with apprenticeship providers. And that's the key here, for an apprenticeship to work, there's got to be the need. The training has got to develop new knowledge, skills and behaviours. And sadly, where we see apprenticeship provision not working well. By and large, Chris, it's because we're not seeing enough training taking place. We're not seeing the development of those knowledge, skills and behaviours that are required. And sadly, it's a it's a, it's a poor experience for the learner and the employer, which can damage the brand. And actually, the brand is a good one. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Chris Jones  17:07  
And what happens in those cases, Paul, either that, that training is not up to scratch.

Paul Joyce  17:13  
So Chris, we've, we were concerned and our our Chief Inspector organised some some new provider monitoring visits with the amount of new providers that were entering the market was was the concern. And these visits give us an early look, an early indication of how provisioning is shaping up. Sadly, about 20% of those providers aren't making sufficient progress. And where we find that to be the case, we report that to the to the funding agency, and it's the funding agency that are able to take some action. And Chris, typically what they'll do is to suspend apprenticeship starts until provision improves. So our inspections drive that improvement, but it's the Education and Skills funding agency that sort of take the enforcement action, based on our inspections.

Chris Jones  18:09  
I see. Okay, good to know. And I'll come back to you am let's look to the look to the future. What do you think that kind of, is there? Is there a next big development in this space? Or is there something that Paragon wants to wants to do differently going forward

Ian Bamford  18:25  
As an organisation, it's about growing. And it's about ensuring that, as Paul was saying, it's about finding those employers that have the need, and really want to develop knowledge, skills and behaviours against particular standards. And I think it's really important that we do that and really understand the impact that that apprenticeship is going to have on individuals, but as for the employer, as well. So I think it is more of the same. I think there are going to be some changes over the next few months and years. Certainly, I mean, it'd be wrong with me to say there aren't issues around cost of living, but certainly, you know, in terms of paying our staff is going to increase. However, things like funding isn't going to increase. So there's going to be some real push and pulls in terms of value for money, how well we're going to be able to do certain things and what differences we're going to have to make to be able to make sure that we keep quality at the heart because obviously being an Ofsted inspector as well. You know, this is not about just signing up people on apprenticeship for the sake of it actually, it's about having the The Apprentice on the right programme, the right starting points, and really delivering a high quality programme to meet those individual needs and driving so that we get good pass rates at the end of that, you know, and what we're seeing is we're seeing some real positivity in terms of some of the high grades around merits and distinctions. So really, it's about continuing to improve that quality and making sure we're doing it for the right thing you may you may have heard of the spirit of the apprenticeship, we have to do things in the spirit of the apprenticeship. This is not about funding training that perhaps was there before the levy, this is about actually genuinely funding a need for those individual learners or individual employers, but using the levy funding as a vehicle to be able to support that.

Chris Jones  20:18  
And Alex, it sounds like you're having a good experience with with apprenticeships, presumably, that will continue.

Alex Grant  20:24  
I think the key thing here is, again, it's worth forgetting the fact that actually, we work in the adult care sector. So if the staff were more skilled, if the staff were able to give a skilled intervention, it directly benefits the service users or the clients or the indeed, the vulnerable adults or children over it might be. So the, the more that we can upskill the staff team, the better the service can be. And that that's, that's if you're in care, you want to get the best care that you can, you know, otherwise, why do it. So actually helping staff to understand why they're doing what the what the theories are behind what they do, you know, what the different types of discrimination is and how like important languages, they're all factors that help staff be better at their job, the care sector, right, because it is under terrible pressure. You know, I hear other providers across the city saying, you know, why is someone going to come and work in social care when they can go and work in a supermarket chain, I won't mention in particular, but for 15 pounds an hour, when they might only be getting 10 pounds an hour in social care. So what can we do that help staff to sort of stay for longer or feel more valued, while actually training is a really real key factor. And if I can get new staff in and, you know, talk to them about would you like to do some training, this is what the benefits are, you know, the the level three is the industry standard, but you've not done anything before, perhaps you could do the two and three, I know that they're likely once they start the course, and it's a positive course and to get the right supports, they're likely to stay in remain in that position until they complete the qualification. And then at the end of that, it may be that they move on to something else, but they might move on to something in care that's better paid. So sometimes we the staff move on and go and work for the NHS, for example, where they've kind of developed a care pathway, they've come into care, because they they care, you know, and actually I want them to continue that pathway and training is, is a key factor in that I don't want them to just despair, and then go and work in retail because that's where the money is, but that's not where their heart is. So if we can help them along that journey. And I guess the other thing with Ofsted, during the inspections, if they if Ofsted is able to come back and go, when actually you know what the workforce are really trying to be upskill they're working very hard. Well, hopefully that means we've got a bit more leverage to go back and say actually, how can we ensure that people who work in care have paid accordingly? I don't disparage anything else. But you can earn more money doing something that's perhaps less challenging, less skilled, that's not quite right. But actually, getting a trained skilled workforce enables everybody empowers people to actually go, You know what, I'm worth more than this. We now need to fight and lobby to get them the pay that they deserve for the role that they do. 

Chris Jones  22:54  
Absolutely. Just just to pick up on Alex's point, you've obviously had an opportunity, lots of opportunities to do training. Where were you? Oh, is that? Is that something that's important to you in terms of choosing a career choosing a job?

Jess  23:09  
Yeah, I think training is the most important thing. You know, to that it sets your pathway of where you want to be. And I very much believe you should do the job you enjoy. Yeah. And the training training is helping you to do that as exactly because I've said I've done a few with through way ahead. It's trained me from being a support worker, to a manager through doing the training.

Chris Jones  23:33  
Paul, I'm gonna come back to you. Yeah, it feels like the apprenticeship landscape is changing quite a lot. We've got degree apprenticeships coming in at the moment. What what do you see as the as the next steps for for apprenticeships on a on a national scale?

Paul Joyce  23:50  
Oh, fantastic question to to conclude with Chris, who could have a whole podcast just about this. You're right. It's it's always in the news. It's obviously a real big policy initiative for for government. There. There remains lots of questions about the levy and the use of the levy. There are some some questions around flexibilities and endpoint assessment. And we've heard from Ian and Alex some of the some of the challenges. So I think Chris, they'll continue to be lots of lots of discussion, lots of debate about how this can evolve. I think it's I think that's right to happen. For me, the most important thing to remember the learner at the heart of the programme, we need to make sure that an apprenticeship really does develop new knowledge, skills and behaviours really does benefit learners, employers and the economy. And I think if we have those high level principles, however, things develop or however things evolve, they won't go far wrong.

Jess  24:57  
Thanks, Paul. Ian, how does that sound to you? 

Ian Bamford  25:00  
So I mean, I think here is a place for the degree apprenticeships, most definitely. But I think what we can't forget. And I think yes, it's a real life example of this. We can't forget the level 234 And five, you know, I think it's really important. Alex said earlier that actually there's a misconception that apprenticeships is for young people. And it's also really around the trades, but actually, it's far from that it's a whole raft of different sectors, and it's every age group. So I think it's really important that we don't lose that balance between the level 234 and then the higher level degree apprenticeships, you know, I think they do have their place, but not at the cost of the, you know, the level two threes and fours. There's no reason that somebody that doesn't start on a level two adult care programme that doesn't end up going into nursing, or somebody that works starts on a level two childcare early years programme that does end up going into teaching. So there's some real progression routes for people to go through from that level to right the way through to level five. But there certainly is a place for degree apprenticeships, but it's about them being used in the right spirit. Again, I go back to that apprenticeship spirit. We've heard of a number, certainly in the sector in the last few years where we've had degree apprenticeships, we're actually there just replacing what was been commercial training beforehand. So you know, I think it's really important that that we don't lose sight of that.

Chris Jones  26:20  
Yeah. And I think that point about lifelong learning is really important. Alex gave the example of I think you said a 71 year old Alex, you've got doing doing an apprenticeship. I mean, if I'm able to do an apprenticeship when I'm 71 I'd be pretty happy with that. I think but I mean, the that's the that's the way the the economy is going, isn't it? It's it's people are changing careers more often. You're taking more opportunities to do to do lifelong learning. So apprenticeships being a really important part of that, of that landscape. Thank you very much to Jess, Alex Ian and Paul - that brings us to the end of the Ofsted talks episode on apprenticeships. A fascinating subject, a hugely important one. And thank you to all our guests today. I'll see you next time on the Ofsted podcast.

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