Sally England is Curriculum Lead for Functional Skills Working Lives in Essex County Council, which comes under the Council’s Adult Community Learning umbrella. Sally’s team works with around 400 apprentices across a range of specialisms – Health & Social Care, Business Admin, Management, Children & Young People, Support Work in Schools – and roughly a third of them need a Functional Skills qualification.
How do you work with apprentices to help them gain maths and English qualifications?
I have a small team of specialists that delivers maths, English and ICT, but I also help the assessors and tutors who are out there working with apprentices to do the best job they can with maths and English. That’s where the embedding comes in.
That’s why I was interested when I saw the training on embedding from the ETF. Embedding maths and English in the workplace is something we’d talked about for a long time but hadn’t had the opportunity to do as much about as we’d have liked. We think this is something that Ofsted will be really homing in on under the new Education Inspection Framework – are we helping to stretch everyone with maths and English, not just those who need the qualifications?
Is maths and English a problem for many of the apprentices?
Yes, it can be a big challenge. Obviously, they’re concentrating on getting their apprenticeship and it’s always taken a bit of a back burner. They think, “It’s something we’ve got to achieve on top of everything else we’re doing”. It can be difficult for them to get time out of the workplace to study for Functional Skills qualifications separately, so it’s important that they can learn on the job.
Also, we deal with quite a lot of older apprentices in management roles where they may well have achieved their maths and English at school but don’t have any proof. They might not have done any qualifications for a long time and they’re busy people so they need to understand why they have to study it. Embedding can help them to see the purpose of maths and English. That’s why we need to get the assessors out there discussing why they need to do it – it’s not just about getting the qualification, it will help them in their job to improve on their maths and English skills.
How did you find the ETF training on embedding Maths and English in apprenticeship delivery?
I’ve taken the first two webinars on Embedding Strategies and Resources and I’ve gone through all four of the online training modules, including the ones on Assessment and Inclusivity as well. I have found the modules really good – there are loads of resources. I’ve made notes of points and resources I’ll go back to and discuss with the team. The training has given me ideas on how I can support my assessors and tutors more and how we can approach employers to ensure they understand the importance of improving apprentices’ maths and English.
Now that employers are principally responsible for training in the new apprenticeship standards, do you think they understand how to cover maths and English?
I would say no for the majority of employers. That’s something I want to take forward after this training, and I’ve already had one meeting with our curriculum leads as a result. It’s my main focus at the moment.
We do skills scans at the beginning of an apprenticeship for an employer and an employee. We ask the employee what maths, English and ICT they think they’re going to need in their role, or if they’re already in role, we ask them what they do. We don’t ask the employer what maths and English skills they want their employee to have. That’s one of the things we’re going to change, because if we have those conversations right at the outset and get employers to think about it, hopefully they’ll see some improvement in their employee and support that improvement. I think that’s something that can be done relatively easily, and it can be discussed at every review meeting, every eight or ten weeks, then it becomes the norm.
How do you think these ETF resources will help your assessors?
A lot of assessors don’t have the confidence to give advice about how to embed maths and English in apprenticeships delivery because they’re not subject specialists. It’s an issue, especially as the reformed Functional Skills qualifications are going to be tougher.
The assessors don’t have to be experts in maths and English themselves, but they do have to have an awareness of the skills required for that level and how they relate to the workplace. They need to be able to have conversations with employers and they need to know where to refer their apprentices and trainers for help. They need good resources to support them.
The ETF training showed me how many good resources there are out there – you get very focused on what you know. As a result, we are identifying resources that will be useful for the assessors and tutors to go to if an apprentice is having difficulty with a particular topic in maths or English. With the current pandemic and an increasing reliance on online resources, it’s also made us look at resources that people can dip in and out of.
Are there any other aspects you think you’ll take forward?
I was interested in the Inclusivity training module – in particular, the importance of getting to know your apprentices. We already have mechanisms such as their initial application form, but then there are things that apprentices mention that need recording. I want to review how we make sure we act on what the apprentices are telling us.
More information on the ETF’s embedding maths and English in apprenticeships support can be found on the ETF’s news pages.