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Focus Management for Business Ltd do not deliver apprenticeships. The following information is about Trailblazers and the changes coming through regarding the new apprenticeships standards, and may be of interest to employers.

Apprenticeship Reforms – what do Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards mean for Employers?

As you may know a major reform of apprenticeships is already underway ready for full implementation from 2017/18. The following is intended to give some information for SME companies currently employing apprentices, for those SME companies considering taking on an apprentice and for those companies not currently employing apprentices who will be paying the levy from April 2017. The information on the trailblazer apprenticeship standards is constantly being updated in readiness to move through a transition period to full implementation. (Larger employers currently receiving direct SFA funding should refer to the Skills Funding Agency’s documents for further guidance.)

The new apprenticeships you may have heard referred to as trailblazers or apprenticeship standards (as opposed to frameworks as the current apprenticeships are called today) and are designed by employer led groups (trailblazers) to make them more relevant to the needs of today. Details of how these new standards work are coming through but there are many parts of the new processes for delivery, assessment and payment from 2017 yet to be decided. The following is an extract -

New apprenticeships are based on standards designed by employers to meet their needs, the needs of their sector(s) and the economy more widely. These standards are short, easy to understand documents that describe the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviour (KSBs) required to undertake a specific occupation well, and to operate confidently within a sector. Standards focus on how an apprentice should demonstrate mastery of an occupation, and meet professional registration requirements in sectors where these exist (for example, in engineering, science and accountancy).

The current 228 frameworks, with their many pathways, will be replaced by over 600 occupational standards. Over 70 standards are already approved for delivery.

A new independent body – the Institute for Apprenticeships led by employers to oversee and approve the new standards, agree assessment and oversee their delivery is being set up to make sure that apprenticeships are more rigorous and relevant to employers.

The main changes for the new trailblazer apprenticeship standards are –

  • Employer led with a lead provider co-ordinating the apprenticeship
  • They consist of three parts - Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours
  • There is no longer a requirement for Employee Rights and Responsibilities or Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). English and Mathematics, however, are still required components (depending on the level of prior achievement)
  • Digital technology (where appropriate for the standard) will either be embedded in the learning or a specific qualification will be required
  • Not all standards will require the apprentice to complete a formal qualification
  • The employer agrees the price(s) with the provider(s) for the different parts
  • The employer has a wider part to play in the apprenticeship regarding training, mentoring, holistic assessment and end assessment
  • A totally independent end point assessment
  • A “lead” provider is responsible for co-ordinating all aspects of the apprenticeship – sign up, documentation, written confirmation of prices agreed and payment schedules, registration with the appropriate awarding body or bodies, arranging the end assessment and checking certification has been actioned

The government announced in December 2015 that it expects 2.3% of all public sector employees to be undertaking an apprenticeship every year. This announcement will affect local district/borough councils (with over 250 employees), the education sector and the NHS etc.

The government’s vision for apprenticeships – English Apprenticeships our 2020 Vision can be accessed by following this link – English Apprenticeships our 2020 Vision

How do the new trailblazer apprenticeship standards work?

Unlike the current apprenticeship frameworks, for the new apprenticeship standards the employer will be in the driving seat deciding who will deliver the training within the apprenticeship and paying the provider(s) for their service(s) and all associated costs for the apprentice to achieve their apprenticeship. The employer must, however, appoint a “lead provider” to co-ordinate all elements of the apprenticeship, registration, the end point assessment, the agreements and paperwork. The employer can deliver some or all of the training required and undertake some of the on programme assessment themselves (although they may be unable to claim full payment for this if they do, however, this could mean their contribution and thereby the core government contribution would be less.) The employer would in this case, however, need to ensure with the lead provider that the apprentice received full and adequate training to meet the requirements of the end point assessment and would doubtless need to agree a price with the lead provider for them to monitor delivery and the apprentice’s progress. All funded training must be delivered in this country. An employer can spend more than the funding level on the training; however, they must be aware that they will not receive more than the “cap” from government (see the table below).

It is expected for all standards that the amount of off-the-job training required will be a minimum of 20% or equivalent. The government expects all apprentices to benefit from genuine training away from their day-to-day job but this does not necessarily need to be away from the employer’s premises for example if the employer has a suitable training room.

There are currently around 70 trailblazer apprenticeship standards approved for delivery and fundable through the SFA. These standards can be viewed on the government’s website - Apprenticeship standards approved for delivery. The list shows the apprenticeship level, funding level and funding cap and by clicking on a standard on the list you can then download the standard and the assessment plan. You will also be able to see whether the standard requires the apprentice to achieve recognised qualifications and the time frame of the qualification. Not all standards will require an apprentice to complete recognised qualifications. Standards currently being developed and their progress can be viewed on the government’s website - Apprenticeship Standards

For further details of occupations approved for the development of new standards and who is involved in their development and details of how you may be able to get involved with development please follow this link. Apprenticeship Standards in Development

All apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months. The duration for each individual apprenticeship is given in the standard. Funding is available only for sustained and substantial training it will not be given for an employee to complete a part of the apprenticeship to gain a qualification nor will it be given for an end point assessment to enable the employee to demonstrate competence.

All apprenticeship vacancies must be advertised by the lead provider or employer on the “Find an Apprentice” website and updated accordingly.

Lead providers will still be subject to inspection by Ofsted. All lead providers must be able to offer English and Mathematics either as Functional Skills qualifications or GCSEs.

Eligibility for an apprenticeship standard should be checked prior to commencement with a lead provider but is generally in line with eligibility for current frameworks. Apprentices must be employed, paid and have a legal contract of employment.

The “gateway”

This is a term being used as the point when an apprentice has completed all aspects relating to the KSBs, listed in the standard and has been assessed as meeting those requirements. They must have achieved any qualifications required including (if necessary) English and Mathematics to the specified levels set out in the standard. At this point the employer and lead provider will discuss and assess that the apprentice has reached the point where the apprentice is ready to go forward to the end point assessment.

End point assessment (EPA)

The following explains why the EPA is being introduced –

Government has introduced a requirement that all apprenticeships must contain an end-point assessment (EPA) which is a holistic assessment of the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSBs) that have been learnt throughout the apprenticeship. This is to make sure that apprentices meet the rigorous standard set by employers and are fully competent in the relevant occupation. It will give employers confidence that completing an apprenticeship means an individual is fully job-ready. It will also mean that all apprentices following the same standard are assessed consistently, regardless of where they are undertaking their apprenticeship or who they are doing it with.

Final details of where EPAs will take place, who will assess them, how long the assessments will last and what the costs will be are still being finalised. Details of the type of assessments for the EPA are available for those approved standards (see above). Current information suggests (it is not yet finalised) that apprentices will need to travel to an independent centre for at least part of the EPA to go before an independent assessor or assessment panel. A range of assessment methods will be used throughout the apprenticeship and at the EPA which will include some of the following –

  • Practical assessments
  • A viva to assess theoretical or technical knowledge or to discuss how the apprentice approached the practical assessment and their reasoning
  • Production of a project
  • Assignments
  • A portfolio of work is not a method in itself but can be included in conjunction with another method of assessment such as an interview about the portfolio. The portfolio can be collated during the apprenticeship but should not have been formally assessed on-programme
  • Observational assessment
  • Written and multiple choice tests
  • Virtual assessments, such as online tests or video evidence as appropriate to the content

For some apprenticeships (especially at higher levels) it is anticipated that the EPA may well involve assessment over more than one day. Employers will be responsible for paying for the EPA. As previously said costs for these EPAs have yet to be finalised but it is anticipated that around 10% – 15% of the combined funding for the apprenticeship will need to be spent on the EPA.

The final assessment must be totally independent and cannot be conducted by anybody who has had any involvement in the delivery of the apprenticeship and definitely cannot be undertaken by the lead provider, any providers involved in the apprenticeship or the employer. However, both employers and providers can register (by applying and being approved) as end point assessors and assessment centres although they will still be unable to assess any apprentice assigned to them.

Levels and Grading of Apprenticeships

New degree apprenticeships run in conjunction with universities (Levels 6 and 7) are being added.

The apprenticeship will be known by its occupation so, for example, you will progress through apprenticeships - as Retail Assistant to Retail Manager, Adult Care Worker to Lead Adult Care Worker. The apprenticeship level for example 2, 3, 4 etc. should still be listed within the information for the standard.

At the EPA the apprentice will be graded, usually - pass and distinction or pass, merit and distinction depending on the standard. However, for some sectors to achieve the apprenticeship a pass and a specific recognised occupational qualification or professional membership (such as technical or charter status) will be required – each standard will detail this in the assessment section. A pass means that the apprentice has met and attained all the standards required in the apprenticeship. An explanation of the grades for each apprenticeship standard can be found in the relevant assessment plan by following the link -

Apprenticeship Standards Ready for Delivery, and opening the required standard from the list of approved standards.

The levy and funding

The government has already announced the introduction of a levy – expected to be 0.5% - to all businesses whose payroll is in excess of £3,000,000 from April 2017. It is expected that this will affect around 2% of businesses. Each employer paying the levy will have an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their levy payment and should be able to access more funding than they pay through their levy. Companies deemed eligible for the levy will be required to pay the levy regardless of whether they undertake apprenticeships or not. Examples provided are as follows -

Example 1 –
Employer of 250 employees - each with a gross salary of £20,000
The pay bill would be: 250 x £20,000 = £5,000,000
The levy sum: 0.5% x £5,000,000 = £25,000
Offset £15,000 allowance: £25,000 - £15,000 = £10,000 annual levy payment

Example 2 –
Employer of 100 employees - each with a gross salary of £20,000
The pay bill would be: 100 x £20,000 = £2,000,000
The levy sum: 0.5% x £2,000,000 = £10,000
Offset £15,000 allowance: £10,000 - £15,000 = £0 annual levy payment

Example 3 –
Employer with a £20,000,000 pay bill
The levy sum is: 0.5% x £20,000,000 = £100,000
Offset £15,000 allowance: £100,000 - £15,000 = £85,000 annual levy payment

Employers who are not eligible to pay the levy will be able to access the government support for apprenticeships by paying towards apprenticeships (see the table below). Currently they will make their contribution by paying an invoice for their contribution issued by their appointed lead provider. There must be clear evidence of payment from employers to lead providers for audit purposes. Until payment is received from the employer the apprenticeship cannot commence.

When the system is fully up and running (expected to be after April 2017) all employers (whether they pay the levy or not) should have access to the Digital Apprenticeship Service, through a digital account, to enable them to choose and pay for the apprenticeship training and assessment they want. Employers will be supported through this service to choose an apprenticeship course, find a candidate and choose a training provider(s). As you will see from the table below there are incentive payments for small employers taking on an apprentice, for taking on a 16-18 year old apprentice and for completion of an apprenticeship.

Until we move over to the new trailblazers, when a new funding model is expected to be introduced in (or after) 2017/18, the government has pledged £2 for every £1 an employer spends up to a cap (Core Government Contribution (CGC)) for an apprenticeship standard for the newly developed trailblazers. There will be six caps from August 2016 (see the table below) set at £2,000, £3,000, £6,000, £8,000, £13,000 and £18,000 - this is an amendment from the current 5 caps.

The table below shows the employer and government contributions for the academic year 2016-17.


The core government contribution will not exceed the cap for the apprenticeship standard regardless of any final price agreed between the employer and lead provider.

Examples of current funding for approved apprenticeship standards are - a Property Management Assistant Apprenticeship, deemed to be a Level 2 apprenticeship with a funding cap of 1 at £2,000 and employer contribution of £1,000 (total £3,000) whereas a Network Engineer Apprenticeship at Level 4 has a funding cap of 5 at £18,000 with an employer contribution of £9,000 (total £27,000).

The employer negotiates the price of training with a training provider or providers. Currently (and during the transition period from frameworks to standards) the government funding comes from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) direct to the lead provider. The lead provider currently will be responsible for paying any other approved providers, the incentive payments to the employer and for the end point assessment. This funding model is expected to change during or after the 2017-2018 academic year.

All English and Mathematics qualifications up to and including Level 2 are expected to be fully funded by the government. The funding for English and maths is in addition to that for the apprenticeship and requires no contribution from the employer. The levels that need to be achieved in English and Mathematics (if the apprentice has not already achieved the required levels prior to the commencement of their apprenticeship), before the end assessment (explained later), are listed in the information on the relevant standard. If a standard requires an apprentice to achieve a Level 3 in English and/or Mathematics this may have to be funded by the employer and would form part of the main funding for the apprenticeship.

Small businesses (up to 50 employees) will receive incentive payments of between £500 and £2,700 for employing an apprentice, for employing a 16-18 year old apprentice between £600 and £5,400 and for successful completion of an apprenticeship between £500 and £2,700.

Employers may be eligible for additional learning support payments outside of the funding level for the standard, for apprentices with learning difficulties or disabilities. Employers should discuss this with their lead provider.

Indications are that incentive payments should be made to the employer (following correct submission of paperwork by the employer to the lead provider) within 10 working days of the lead provider receiving the funding from the SFA possibly at the following points –

  • Small employer incentive – 100% after the apprenticeship has lasted 90 days
  • 16-18 year old apprentice – 50% after the apprenticeship has lasted 90 days and 50% after the apprenticeship has lasted 365 days
  • Completion – after the awarding organisation has claimed the certificate following successful completion of the EPA

Only one apprenticeship per person can be funded at any one time. An apprentice cannot start an apprenticeship standard if they are currently still completing an apprenticeship framework.

The employer is expected to be responsible for payment of the following which cannot be paid for through the funding –

  • Payment of apprentices’ wages
  • Any training or optional modules chosen in addition to what is eligible for co-payment
  • All travel costs for an apprentice travelling to and from their place or work or any other place required for the delivery of their apprenticeship
  • Company induction
  • Personal protective clothing and safety equipment required for apprentices to carry out their day-to-day work
  • Educational trips or trips to professional events not specified in the apprenticeship standard or assessment plan
  • Re-sits for qualifications or assessment required by the apprenticeship standard where no extra learning takes place before the re-sit
  • Employer’s own administration costs for supporting the apprenticeship
  • Time spent by managers supporting apprentices, mentoring or the time of other staff arranging training support
  • Specific services not related to the delivery and administration of the apprenticeship; this includes bespoke or additional training or assessment which is not a requirement of the standard
  • Where, for convenience, employers or providers wish the apprentice to live nearby whilst learning – for example, accommodation at a hotel for an apprentice chef

An apprentice should not pay towards any part of their training or end assessment, however, an employer may ask them to contribute in part or full to professional membership and subscriptions and the cost of trips to educational/sector related events that are not specifically included within the apprenticeship standard and are not considered direct costs of learning.

Employers need to check with providers regarding the payment of VAT. Some providers may charge VAT which an employer should be able to reclaim in the usual way. However, some providers may not charge VAT and incentive payments may not be liable for VAT. Employers should seek relevant advice.

Employers should expect to pay for any services provided by a lead provider to support the delivery and administration of the apprenticeship and these should be detailed separately to the price for education, training and assessment.

Any apprentice taking English and/or Mathematics as part of their apprenticeship up to and including Level 2 will, if their employer ceases trading or they are made redundant, be able to complete their English and/or Mathematics qualification(s) with the lead provider.


Until the levy is in place in 2017 the current funding models for the frameworks and the new trailblazers will work as now with funding routed to providers from the SFA. Employers will be able to access the list of lead providers from the Register of Training Organisations. A Register of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations who can undertake the EPAs will be available soon as only a few end assessment organisations have so far been approved.

All apprentices who start on the current framework apprenticeships will complete under the current frameworks they are on, they will not be transferred to the new standards. Over time (and hopefully by 2020) the old frameworks will be retired when candidates’ registrations have expired. From 2017/18 all new apprenticeships will be on the new trailblazer standards unless they are not ready and approved for launch.

Further information on eligibility and funding can be obtained by downloading the relevant SFA Funding Rules for Trailblazer apprenticeships from the government’s website or by speaking to an apprenticeship provider.

This article is available as a PDF file here

Sue Yates March 2016

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