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Author: Sharon Stainsby-Thompson

Covid recovery and the impact on mental health

We have now lived through one of the most difficult challenges we have known and it is expected that recovery will take some considerable time to achieve. Anxiety and feelings of isolation have increased dramatically over recent weeks and months. Childline and other domestic abuse helplines have reported increases in call volumes to their operatives. We rarely know the personal circumstances of all the people we work with and work for, and therefore we must take into account that this Pandemic has created an environment of heightened emotions. A study by MQ (Transforming Mental Health and the Academy of Medical Sciences) was published in April 2020, reported on a survey carried out to establish attitudes and feelings about the Pandemic. In their findings they identified an increase in feelings of anxiety isolation, becoming mentally unwell, concerns about access to mental health support and services, anxiety-related directly to family and about relationships. Most of us will be familiar with Maslow’s “Hierarchy of needs”. So, before we expect our IT teams, or sales teams to be ‘returning to normal’, or helping us to recover the business we need to carefully assess where they are on Maslow’s pyramid and support them through this. The idea of maintaining a ‘stiff upper lip’ perhaps leaves some feeling that they simply have no one to talk to, and therefore leading to further feelings of isolation and/or anxiety. This may manifest itself in many different ways, not least of which is making decisions which may negatively affect the whole organisation. This allows us to begin to build a more stable platform for recovery. There is no such thing as the perfect plan. But there is also a more globally understood truism; Fail to plan—plan to fail. This is a planning phase, where we begin to look at the impact internally and externally on our families, our businesses and our industries. This is a critical time, as business leaders can be quick to focus on profit and business impact and neglect the people issues related to the crisis. We must be guarded against this, if we are to successfully transition to the next phase - we begin to recovery our business and return to “normality” (whatever that may look like) and begin working towards a more stable operating environment. Our teams begin to return, and the business begins to recover. Post crisis phase is one which many forget but is of key importance if we are to prepare for future events. Here we learn from decisions made, how we personally and collectively responded, and what the true impact of the crisis was. Here we have the opportunity here to improve our response to future pandemics and other significant disruptions.
September 24, 2020

Safeguarding Changes in Education from 2 Sep 2020

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE ) has been updated on 2nd Sep 2020. It sets out the legal duties schools and colleges* must follow to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people under the age of 18 in schools and colleges (includes WBL providers and all working with under 18’s). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education--2 Copies of policies and a copy of Part one of the KCSiE 2020 document should be provided to staff at induction and all staff should sign to say they have read and understood the content. ‘Regulated activity in relation to children: scope’ describes work that a must not do. "We have also published guidance on" .The key changes that you need to be aware of, in relation to HR and Employment matters include the definition of safeguarding, managing allegations against supply teachers, and the explicit inclusion of mental health. Part one of KCSIE sets out what all staff need to know, what they need to look out for and where they should report their concerns. Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined for the purposes of this guidance as protecting children from maltreatment, preventing impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development, ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes. Part 1 – Safeguarding information for all employees now includes information on mental and physical health in relation to safeguarding and the welfare of children. There is further guidance signposted to support this. It also provides employees with further information about child criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation. Reference has been added to make it explicitly clear what School and College employees should do if they have safeguarding concerns about another employee who may pose as a risk or harm to children. This also applies to supply staff and volunteers who work at the School or College. Part 2 – The management of safeguarding now includes an additional link to ‘When to call the police guidance’ from the NPCC and paragraphs 74-81 confirm the new multi-agency working arrangements that are now in place. Part two of the revised KCSIE sets out the responsibilities of governing bodies and proprietors to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and includes guidance on the safeguarding policies and procedures they should have in place. The wording in this section has been updated to reflect the three safeguarding partners system is now running. The designated safeguarding lead and any deputies should liaise with the three safeguarding partners and work with other agencies in line with Working together to safeguard children. A link to NPCC guidance has also been added and it should help designated safeguarding leads to understand when they should consider calling the police and what to expect when they do as well as further clarification about GDPR and withholding information. ‘Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure relevant staff have due regard to the relevant data protection principles, which allow them to share (and withhold) personal information, as provided for in the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR.’
September 24, 2020

Ofsted and ‘deep dives’

Deep-dives form the core of inspection activity with lead inspectors selecting subjects/vocational areas for deep dives and agree these with the Ofsted nominee during initial call to provider. Almost all evidence emerges from deep dives – including evidence about PD and B&A, ‘Prevent’, British values, safeguarding with inspectors spend most of their time in learning environments.

The Lead inspector may re-focus deep dive areas during inspection.

Inspectors hear from curriculum/subject leaders in deep dive areas about their curriculum intent and visits to learning environments evaluate curriculum implementation. This will include, but not be limited to work scrutiny, talks to learners / apprentices, visits to teaching and learning activities, talk to Tutors and Coaches.

During discussion regarding the impact of curriculum will include review of accommodation, resources or workplace, joint work scrutiny, case study of learners who have high needs and discussion with manager about outcomes/destination data.

Inspectors will be doing these things at the same time.

Inspectors will want to know the intent of the curriculum. For example, how do staff use local labour market intelligence and other information to shape the curriculum? What knowledge, skills and behaviours do employers say the learners need and is this aligned both the company KPI s as well as job descriptions?

They will review evidence of the local geographical priorities including sector growth. This will include what are the needs of the local community eg basic skills, family learning, particular vocational areas? As well as local priorities Ofsted will be keen to explore with you your knowledge and whether you are taking account of national priorities?

Data will be examined and evaluated, for example how well did your learners do on this course in previous years? What understanding do you have of learners’ destinations? And finally, do learners’ destinations link to what they learned at college/ work-based learning providers? Have learning had IMPACT and supported progression.

August 14, 2020

FE Industry update

The country is now in the early stages of beginning to think about what is being called “the new normal” – the way that social and working practices will have to be conducted in an age where a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is either not widely available, or not available at all.

These are difficult times for employers, learners and providers- as part of the cross-government efforts to respond to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is implementing new measures, until further notice to reduce the negative impact.

Plan for Jobs Apprenticeships, Traineeships, investment in the National Careers Service, and a new ‘Kickstart Scheme’ are the crucial elements of a new 'Plan for Jobs’ announced by the Chancellor, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP.


Job Retention Bonus.

A Job Retention Bonus will be introduced to help firms keep furloughed workers. Employers will receive a one-off bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed employee who is still employed as of 31 January 2021.


The Chancellor announced that for the next six months, the Government will pay businesses to hire apprentices, with a new payment of £2,000 per apprentice for those under the age of 25 and £1,500 for those aged 25 and over. This money is in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government already provides for new 16-18 year old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care plan.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education have put in place a flexibility that enables apprentices to take end-point assessment (EPA) ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualification results.


The Government will provide an additional £111 million this year for Traineeships in England, to fund high-quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. Employers will receive 1k per trainee. The Government will also improve provision and expand eligibility for Traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high-quality training. Current traineeship rules apply until September 2020.

Kickstart Scheme.

The Kickstart scheme is for those aged 16-24, claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. It is worth £2 billion and will give hundreds of thousands of young people, in every region, the best possible chance of getting on and getting a job. There is no cap on the number of places per employer. Funding available for each six month job placement will cover 100% of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week and employers will be able to top this wage up.

The Apprenticeship Programme response to COVID-19 & guidance & 20/21 Funding Policy


Summary of version 6 changes:

• From 13 July, in addition to the limited number of 16-19 apprentices attending on-site delivery, providers can now make arrangements for 19+ apprentices to return to onsite delivery, where this can be safely accommodated. From September there will be no limit on who can attend • Confirmation that where an apprentice has been made redundant, but is continuing their apprenticeship study, they can claim Universal Credit (UC) as long as they satisfy all eligibility criteria • The temporary flexibility suspending the funding rule requiring level 2 apprentices to study towards, and attempt, level 2 functional skills assessments has been extended until 31 December 2020 20/21

August 7, 2020

A Change in Culture? – Remote (on-line) learning

The challenges

The Department for Education (DfE) has encouraged training and assessments to be delivered remotely wherever possible which has proved very challenging for some smaller providers who do not have the infrastructure prior to the current climate. Although some providers will be using distance learning tools, for others this will not be possible for a range of reasons, for example, if the technical system was not already in place prior to Covid19 and there is a frenzy to contract with companies who can offer this service. Being able to react positively and including an ethos to on-line learning is the key to success.

This may also impact on staff who face challenges of working from home who need to demonstrate the ability to deliver on-line and have the knowledge and resources to do this effectively. CMI link to webinar- Killer Virtual Presentation Skills https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5Qmv5qd71g&feature=youtu.be

For those learners and apprentices who have been able to continue their learning, this has also moved online, raising further issues. Learners and apprentices, especially those from lower income backgrounds, may not have a suitable home learning space to continue their study, the equipment, access to the internet or the support of staff who may have been furloughed.

Even if the learner or apprentice does have the access, technical and skills needed, the training provider may not. While IT contractors or the apprentice’s employer could potentially support, overarching demand may hinder at a time when they are likely to not have a fully staffed team, or it may come at an additional unbudgeted cost.

The benefits

This is clearly a challenging time, but it also presents an opportunity for us all to experience the potential benefits of online learning. For us, online doesn’t just mean a video to watch or a portal on which to submit work – virtual learning can be as diverse and as engaging as face-to-face delivery.

With an increase in the use of Microsoft Teams/ Zoom https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue and Interactive whiteboards, polls and discussions help to keep learners engaged and access to libraries of resources online helps students to extend their learning independently. Data capture is invaluable too, in helping Tutors and learners to track progress.

Of course, it goes without saying that our first priority in the coming weeks and months is to help look after the health of our community and there’s a lot of work for us to do in education to protect learning. If we consider how flexible on line learning can be (as well as the positives with regard to journey times and positive environmental factors) we can evidence that students want to learn on demand (just look at their viewing habits for evidence here, with Netflix and Amazon Prime now much more popular than live TV among a younger audience) and we know that learners respond if they’re empowered to set their own agenda and take charge of their learning. https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-how-we-prepared-staff-online-teaching

August 1, 2020

The New “Normal” in Apprenticeships

These are difficult times for employers, learners and providers- as part of the cross-government efforts to respond to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is implementing new measures, until further notice to reduce the negative impact.

In the current climate schools and FE providers working with vulnerable students are back to education this week and soon to be apprentices prioritised in the offer of face-to-face training from 15 June, and details of the flexibility that enables apprentices to take end-point assessment ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualification results as well as stand-alone functional skills (for AEB and other contracts) and other courses currently being completed on line that have had to be moved from face to face classroom learning in the current circumstances.

Information on which apprentices should be prioritised in the offer of face-to-face training in line with the Prime Minister’s announcement that further education settings can broaden the number of 16 to 19 learners attending on-site delivery from 15 June. More information can be found in the apprentices returning to train in an educational setting section of the guidance.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education have put in place a flexibility that enables apprentices to take end-point assessment (EPA) ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualification results later on in the summer. More information can be found in the EPA flexibility for functional skills qualifications (FSQs) section of the guidance. Ofqual have also identified the evidence needed for awarding bodies to replace exams and providers and staff are working hard to meet next week’s deadline for the first cohort of predicted grades.

new guidance on the delivery of assessment includes information on:

how apprenticeship training and assessment can continue in line with the new safer working guidance

delivering apprenticeships flexibly to those working at home

furloughed employees continuing apprenticeship training and end-point assessment (EPA), or starting an apprenticeship

applying the policy on breaks in learning

delays to EPA

alternative arrangements and flexibilities for EPA, external quality assurance, and certification

extensions to contracts for training providers with existing procured contracts

funding audits and evidence

August 1, 2020

Workload and wellbeing: EIF reflection

In September 2019, the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) came into effect. The new EIF, which was devised in response to the largest consultation in Ofsted’s history (including a three-month consultation which prompted more than 15,000 responses), is meant to improve the way in which inspections are conducted and refine the criteria against which education settings are judged. For example, in the Education Inspection Framework, education settings must demonstrate that staff are protected from bullying and harassment, and that teachers’ workloads are effectively managed.

Implementing best practice, senior leadership teams should regularly conduct reflective exercises that help identify key strengths and weaknesses with regards to staff wellbeing, and the areas for improvement. Ofsted is keen to understand what education establishments are doing to address workload and well- being in response to the wider recruitment and staff retention issues.

The focus of EIF is ensuring both staff and learners feel fully supported during all aspects of their work journey. For example, during inspection, it is highly likely that staff will be asked how well supported they feel in their role and what measures leaders take to ensure workload is manageable. This is particularly pertinent where education providers are seeking to redevelop or broaden their curriculum in response to introducing new standards (for apprenticeship delivery) or changes within the sector and/ or organisation, such as Covid 19 impact and the isolation with home working and/or added challenges of home schooling that may be an important factor which impacts health and mental well-being for many staff.

For example, an assessment policy will be scrutinised in relation to workload. Inspectors will be interested in how assessment and the collection of data is used to inform the teaching and learning but without significantly increasing staffs’ workloads.

Well-being at work has been identified as one of the most important dimensions of an individual’s overall well-being, but also as a contributing factor to the economic growth of a country through its workforce. Many providers have Performance Management and Quality Assurance policies which outline good practice to ensure success and staff who stay motivated and enjoy their work.

There are however, a number of agencies who can support in times of challenge.



July 25, 2020

In the Covid 19 environment- Is it safe to open schools and colleges?

Unions have fired off a Covid-19 “liability” warning shot to school and college leaders – quoting the health and safety laws “you are exposing yourself to by following the current deeply flawed guidance”. A joint letter, from the National Education Union, Unite, Unison and GMB was sent this month to headteachers and principals of college groups with schools to make clear that the Department for Education has placed the wider reopening from June “on the shoulder of the employer and on you”. It reminds them that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as four other pieces of legislation, “places a duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare” of their staff and students before stating the unions will be advising members of their “legal rights should any member contract Covid-19 upon returning to school”. “We believe it is important you fully understand the potential liability you are exposing yourself to by following the current deeply flawed guidance,” the letter added. Multiple education unions have warned against the government’s plans for schools and colleges to start their wider reopening from 1 June, citing safety as their biggest concern. The joint letter claims that the scientific evidence is “yet to be released that establishes that the measures contained within the DfE guidance are capable of ensuring the risk to pupils, staff and the wider community is reduced to an acceptable level”. Education unions’ resistance to the current plan for the wider reopening of schools and colleges has been questioned. Speaking in parliament, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, accused them of “scaremongering”. The unions used the letter to say that they “trust” schools and colleges will “understand that we are not acting without good reason, but from the position that we all share responsibility for ensuring there is no second spike of Covid-19 in the UK”. “We recommend that you remain alert to these duties when you are assessing whether your school is safe to be opened more widely,” it states. “We appreciate that a decision of this magnitude, with its serious implications, is not an easy one to make.” The unions said their reps are “there to assist and support you in making that decision” and they believe that schools and colleges should seek support from their local authority, although any decision does ultimately rest with an individual school and college. The department’s statement said that it remains the case that schools and colleges will only reopen to more students if the government’s “five tests” are met by 28 May. The five tests are:
  1. Protect the NHS’s ability to cope. We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
  2. See a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from COVID-19 so we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak
  3. Reliable data from SAGE showing that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
  4. Be confident that the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and PPE, are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand
  5. Be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is the education and welfare of all children and young people across the country. That is why we want to start a phased wider opening of nurseries, school and colleges is informed by the best possible scientific and medical advice. We will continue to work with the sector to support them to prepare for wider opening and ensure all children and young people can continue to receive the best care, education and training possible.” Speaking during the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday 24th May, Boris Johnson said: “We intend from 15 June for secondary schools to provide some contact for year 10 and year 12 students to help them to prepare for their exams next year with up to a quarter of these students in at any point.” Shortly after the briefing, the Department for Education released a statement that confirmed their new “expected” plan is for sixth forms and colleges to provide face-to-face contact for year 12 and equivalent 16 to 19 further education students “from 15 June, with around a quarter of these students in at any point”. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers/reopening-schools-and-other-educational-setting
July 17, 2020

Challenges for Information, Advice and Guidance and the impact of Covid 19

As the impact of the pandemic on the economy develops with students missing out on crucial face to face information and guidance through schools and college (even if they can navigate the landscape independently), they will be faced with decreasing numbers of job vacancies making them even more competitive to access.

Direct opportunities to interact with employers and digital programmes have a huge part to play to ensure potential apprentices are informed about their future decisions.

The apprenticeship standards model of education and training is only going to increase and a skilled workforce will be more important than ever to rebuild the economy -apprenticeships also offer opportunities to those out of work to retrain or learn the skills that will be needed when the pandemic subsides. It is vital to ensure that the apprenticeship supply chain can continue and the progress made in recent years is not negatively impacted or lost.

In many industries, recruitment is being put on hold, with many being furloughed, with no clear idea of when opportunities will start to increase again.

It’s important that all staff recognise the part they play in information, advice and guidance and the need to implement this into each learning journey not only to ensure success, retention and progression opportunities, but also to ensure that the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework. Good careers education is linked to high KPI’s including retention, achievement and progression ensuring the ‘right’ learners are on the ‘right’ courses with robust initial assessment and identification of prior learning.

With references to curriculum, knowledge and sequencing of content is the need for a curriculum to develop the skills needed for future learning and employment. Take this sentence as an example from an Ofsted report, from the descriptor of outstanding: “It (the curriculum) is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment.”

Much of the debate around the new Ofsted framework has centred on the need for developing traditional, academic skills. This is clearly important but equally there is a hidden reminder in the framework about the importance of developing core employability skills.

Gatsby Foundation: Good Career Guidance benchmarks, research and resources: www.gatsby.org.uk/education/focus-areas/good-career-guidance & www.goodcareerguidance.org.uk

June 1, 2020

Covid 19 and the impact on Exams and EPA

The Institute for Apprenticeships is supporting a new temporary flexibility that will enable apprentices to take end point assessment (EPA) ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualifications (FSQ) later on in the summer.

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, Ofqual, said:

“In the unprecedented circumstances we face this summer, these exceptional arrangements are the fairest way of making sure students have the grades they need in time to progress to further study or employment. It is important that students; their parents, carers and teachers; and others who rely on these qualifications, such as universities and employers, have had an opportunity to feed-back views. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to respond”.



If apprentices are ready to undertake their end point assessments it is imperative that these happen remotely, wherever possible. The Chief Executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) Jennifer Coupland has backed this, saying there should be a “significant shift” towards online assessments, but acknowledging there will be challenges ensuring quality, which is a concern not just for the apprentice but for the sector as a whole.

“With immediate effect as of May 22nd and during the Covid-19 crisis we are permitting the re-sequencing of the EPA process to enable gateway to be passed and EPA to be taken before the FSQ calculated result is received. This will apply to:

  • all apprentices due to take an FSQ test and receive a result between 20 March and 31 July;
  • those apprentices that are deemed by their training provider to have the required level of functional skills and sufficient evidence to demonstrate this to receive a calculated FSQ pass; and
  • occupationally competent apprentices at gateway who are ready to progress to sit their EPA.

This change to the EPA process will only be applied to qualifying apprentices during the Covid-19 crisis. This measure will ensure that apprentices can continue with their apprenticeship and sit their EPA where possible. Apprentices will not be able to achieve their apprenticeship until after the FSQ pass is received and the apprenticeship certificate can be issued.

May 27, 2020
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