“We aren’t allowed to assess apprentices on-programme”

Our quality improvement partner work with FE and Skills providers, often aligns with our broader consultancy assignments with our colleagues at SDN. For the last 5 years, this happens most often in the implementation of the apprenticeship reforms.

We’ve found there are a number of reoccurring themes when speaking with curriculum managers and delivery staff. There is one in particular I’d like to tackle in this post.

“We aren’t allowed to assess apprentices on programme because this only happens during end-point assessment.”

I can’t think of a single discussion in the last two years with delivery teams where this hasn’t been raised. Genuinely.

Before explaining why this is not the case, it’s important to consider why this misunderstanding may have come about.


A significant proportion of apprenticeship trainer-assessors have a background in assessing learners to achieve NVQ certification. Their own qualifications are most likely to be assessment and verification awards in their various incarnations, recognising their skills in their chosen profession.

As a result, the word ‘assessment’ has been used for many years as a catch-all, for assessing learner competence against the requirements of units which make up a qualification.

It is therefore understandable, there is some anxiety when managers and delivery team members are informed that ‘what is assessed/ completed on-programme cannot be assessed for end-point assessment’.

To move us beyond this misconception, let’s identify the various ways in which assessment is used to support apprentices.

‘Assessment is the bridge been teaching and learning’ D. William

There is a significant body of research and literature available on assessment in education. I’ve no intention of turning this post into anything other than an introduction to the topic, providing what I hope is some food for thought. I’ve shared references to some useful publications at the end of this post for you to explore the topic further.

In basic terms, the purpose of assessment in our context can be summarised as:

  • Formative assessment – informs teaching and learning
  • Summative assessment –understand what the learner knows and can do (attainment) at a point in time
  • Standardised summative assessment – evaluate what a learner knows and can do for the purpose of achieving a qualification/ apprenticeship

So, returning to the statement “We aren’t allowed to assess apprentices on programme as this happens during end-point assessment’. The trailblazer guidance has altered at various points over the time of the reforms.  It states “As a general rule anything that is assessed at the end-point must have been completed after the apprentice has passed the gateway review. Therefore, neither a portfolio of work nor a showcase completed during the apprenticeship can be used as assessment methods by themselves, and so cannot be individually weighted or contribute to the overall grade.”

It is odd, that this point is only made in the context of portfolios and showcases. The same consideration should also be given to other methods; projects being the most obvious example. However.

Let’s try to clear this up for you

The only scenario in which your assessment activity and end-point assessment activity has any risk of conflict, relates to standardised summative assessment; when you are assessing the apprentice’s work for the purpose of qualification achievement on-programme (mandated or not is irrelevant).

Good end-point assessment organisations have put a great deal of thought into creating firewalls between what you do on-programme which is completed and assessed for the purpose of achieving a qualification and what they expect to be produced after the gateway which they will assess. In short, the reason is to avoid double counting and the associated risk of an apprentice receiving two different outcomes for the same piece of work.

This has absolutely no bearing on:

  • How you choose to support learning through effective use of formative assessment techniques (including how you help them prepare for end-point assessment)
  • The summative assessment methods you choose to put in place internally for the purpose of checking what an apprentice knows or can do at various points in time during the programme. This is most prevalent where you are not using a qualification/ the qualification(s) don’t cover the full occupational requirements of the Standard.

Let’s look at this another way, if you aren’t conscientiously planning to support the apprentice to learn, as an outcome of formative assessment or checking progress during the programme to reset the next step in the apprentice’s journey, you aren’t helping them to reach their full potential.

It means taking a gamble every time you agree with the employer to put an apprentice through the gateway. Reforms or not, Ofsted reports are littered with statements on good/ poor practice relating to the effectiveness of assessment to drive the programme of learning. Its grade altering stuff. The reforms has brought this into sharper focus.

The good news is, when you unpick this in practical details with trainer-assessors, formative assessment is often very much part of what they do already; using effective questioning techniques for example (and no, it doesn’t all need to be written down!).

I think where we have more of a gap in some occupational areas, is in determining valid and reliable summative assessment methods at key milestones along the apprentice journey (including initial assessment). It is unfair and unwise to leave this to individual trainers to determine. Not because they aren’t able to do it but because it limits the potential for your learning as an organisation as you look for trends and patterns to help you make curriculum and resourcing improvements.

The key is not leaving these things to chance. the curriculum development stage is a crucial step in determining your planned use of assessment strategies.


Mesma clients can access resources to support quality of teaching, learning and assessment in the InsightQ Share module when it launches on 2nd April. If you’re aren’t an existing mesma client and would like to be kept up to date with launch details or our other services, please join our mailing list here https://mesma.co.uk/newsletter-sign-up/

Details of the SDN conference can be found here http://www.strategicdevelopmentnetwork.co.uk/sdn-conference-2019/

Further reading:


Making Good Progress?: The future of Assessment for Learning D. Christodoulou


Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom D Willingham


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