The Quality Series #2 Q&A
In our second event in the series, Ensuring Equality, Dr Louise Karwowski, Director of Education at Cognassist was joined by:
– Kelly Townend, Quality Manager at WYLP
– Marina Gaze, former Deputy Director of FE and Skills
– Beej Kaczmarczyk, Chair of the Corporation of Chesterfield College Group, Chair of the Board of White Rose College of Beauty and Director at Learning Curve Group
- What do you think about the Quality Assurance Framework?
- How to ensure equality is fully embedded into an organisation?
- How can organisations support their staff to provide an inclusive experience for learners?
- What if an organisation says there’s no time to think about equality or do training because they're too busy?
- What are some of the best methods in evidencing quality?
- How can providers use of the Education Inspection Framework to provide a truly inclusive learner experience?
- Do you think there's enough support for employers to understand how to deliver support?
- What do you think of the limited exemption criteria for functional skills for those with LDD?
- Where is a good place to start the equality conversation?
1. What do you think about the Quality Assurance Framework?
It looks really helpful and it complements the Education Inspection Framework perfectly. And I think the problem that lots of people have with the Education Inspection Framework is that although Ofsted tried to make it as simple and jargon-free as possible, if you’re not using it day-to-day, it can be quite complicated.
This framework breaks down some of the phases around, intent, implementation, impact beautifully.
Of course, the important thing is not just having the framework, it’s how well people use it, how they revise and review each month, and how well plans are working for learners and apprentices. To me, it looks as if it’s going to be really helpful.
It’s going to be an excellent tool and extremely helpful to those new providers as well, because they need help to demystify things. There’s so much to process as a new provider. With the framework, they can start to get those action plans in.
Several years ago, the Learning and Work Institute report on support for learners with individual needs in apprenticeships was quite critical of the fact that very often new providers and smaller providers weren’t given enough support. So I think this is a really useful tool.
I would really emphasise how important that first pillar is around identifying and establishing the start points. In our experience, we found that when we invest in establishing the start point for an individual trainee, whether it be on an apprenticeship or on a sector-based work academy, it sets the tone for the rest of their experience.
That’s something that I’ve started to notice. Having read through emerging inspection reports as they’re coming through, the key theme that’s coming out is the ineffective use of starting point initial assessments for learners. It’s not going away. We need to get on top of this and fully utilise it as soon as possible.
Yes, and with starting points, this has to be ready when people start. This isn’t about doing it four weeks into the programme, because that’s a major problem. Ideally, and in the best provision, the initial assessment is done before the programme starts, so all the support is in place. Individualised learning is already planned and the apprentice or the learner is clear about what’s going to happen, as is the tutor and the employer.
You do this before you’ve signed the learner up, and make sure that they’re involved in the process too, because at the end of the day, they’re the best person to know what they need and what’s going to work for them.
I completely agree and it’s important as well to make sure that it’s the right person initially assessing, that it’s not just the admin apprentice because that’s who you’ve got on the day. They’re not going to be able to tease out what that learner needs.
That’s part of your quality, isn’t it? Your quality assurance and quality go together, I don’t think there’s any sort of separation of them.
I’ll add that it’s absolutely critical that that’s done early on in your relationship with the apprentice or the learner, and it could actually mean that on some occasions you might say, ‘well, actually the apprenticeship is not the best thing for you’, because with that start point is also assessing what the prior experience in learning is, and I see those as a very critical of that process. So on occasions you might recognise how much support a learner needs, but in some cases you could realise that the learner might be better suited to doing another course rather than an apprenticeship. I think that’s a very good part of the process before onboarding.
Yes, it’s what recruitment with integrity means and that we’re not setting learners up to fail.
One of the interesting things I’m seeing in independent training providers at the moment is some of them are now employing SENDCOs as a school or a college would, and I think that’s a real step forward.
Do you not think though, Marina, if there’s a SENDCO team that sometimes people will say it’s their job to provide support rather than everybody’s job?
That’s why it’s really important that SENDCO or whoever has the overall management view for learning support makes sure that there’s very good CPD in place for all staff because it is everybody’s job, Louise, I totally agree and it’s through all aspects of the programme. If that somebody does have an overview of it, they are carrying out quality assurance processes to make sure that the impact of that support is there on the apprentices.
On the point about ‘if an apprenticeship isn’t right, it isn’t right’, I think it’s very important that you then signpost learners or apprentices elsewhere so they have a ladder. For example, if they want to do apprenticeships, a common barrier is that people’s functional skills are at too low a level to allow them to access a particular apprenticeship. Where are you going to signpost them to, and give them the support to gain enough literacy and numeracy skills to come back and access that particular apprenticeship? It’s really important too that we signpost people elsewhere to where they can learn and move on and get the support they need.
One thing I would add, certainly from experience across all the organisations that I have a relationship with, is that when you embed equality, diversity, inclusion in the curriculum —whether it’s the hairdressing curriculum, beauty therapy, or social care— the impact it has on the learner means that when they work with the service user, with the patient or the customer, they treat them with respect, integrity and dignity. So this process is a critical part of the learning process and has a big impact on the learner.
That’s why the word impact is so critical in the way in which the framework is constructed. Some of the impacts will be certainly demonstrated not by the learner, but by the person the learner is working with, the client, the service user, whoever it is. For example, in the recent inspection report for Virgin Care, which was Outstanding, that was one of their strengths. It was embedded in all of their operations.
So I can’t see equality as something separate from quality. I just see them so integrated.
2. How to ensure equality is fully embedded into an organisation?
Whether you’re an independent training provider or a college, this has got to come from the very top. Your commitment has got to come from the board, from the owners and then it’s got to be in every vein of the operation. We use this expression at Learning Curve, but also in White Rose, that it permeates everything. It’s not just the policy, it’s not just the intent but it’s got to be in the procedures, the practice. Learning Curve has 5 core values, but they have one thing called ‘tone of voice’ which is about how those core values come to life.
So if you say one of the core values is ‘doing the right thing’, or ‘putting the learner at the heart of everything’, it’s got to be evidenced in the practice day in day out, in the relationship with the staff, the relationship with each other, and that tone of voice becomes the culture that you create, so it’s got to start at the very top. It’s got to go through everything in terms of policies and practice, which is critical. It’s got to be in the implementation and then measuring regularly. For the learner journey, it starts before the person starts, with recruitment, how do you build equality into your recruitment strategies?
As an example, the skills bootcamps. We are very active in construction and in digital skills. How would you make sure that any of the learners with protected characteristics are getting equal access to, for example, opportunities in the digital sector? So it’s got to be built into your recruitment, your marketing, all the way through.
With a small provider, of course, you’ve got to have a start point, and sometimes the start point is to make sure you’ve got a clear policy that is understood by your staff and that is then turned into clear procedures that everyone knows. That’s why the Quality Assurance Framework is such a useful tool because if I was coming into this as a small training organisation, this would really help to formulate what my response should be
I certainly agree, but I often think that there’s a mismatch between policy and what’s happening on the ground. My advice to people, leaders, managers is to actually go out and see it.
This week, I was in an A-level IT class. It would have been brilliant apart from one thing: there was one girl in the class. She didn’t speak at all in the entire time I was there. The teacher used great directed questioning but didn’t talk to her once and she was sat on her own. Now, as an observer, that jumped out at me that there was a minority in there who wasn’t integrated. And you see this time and time again once you start looking for it. People might be recruited. Staff might have had training, but actually what is the implementation and the integration on the ground?
And of course, that’s particularly true for the SEND and additional learning support needs as well. Teachers might know they’re there, but what are they actually doing about them? Are they comfortable? Have they had their own practice reflected back to them?
So my advice to leaders, no matter what size the organisation is, is to go out and look for yourself. And talk to your learners, get feedback from them. You might hear some things that you don’t want to hear, but better to find out and be able to act on them than just to pretend everything’s all right because you have policies in place when actually it isn’t.
3. How can organisations support their staff to provide an inclusive experience for learners?
For me, it’s making sure that we have a strong starting point initial assessment, making sure that it is clear to all staff, that staff are adequately trained and that CPD is put in place. But go out and test that CPD and its impact. Is it drilling down and having an impact on the ground with the learners? Because if it’s not, there is a CPD issue. We need to think about how we are going to reframe this or retrain a member of staff, to ensure that they feel confident and are skilled enough to ensure that they are doing the best they can with the starting point initial assessment at that point and then that they utilise those results all the way through the programme.
I think the training has to be ongoing as well. It’s not good enough to just train your staff once.
Yes, you can’t just tick a box, right? It’s ongoing.
You have to recap and revisit and recall. It’s the same for learners, staff and boards as well. Everybody needs that ongoing training refresh.
At the end of every meeting of the board, of the corporation or the subcommittees, we ask this very simple question, how have our decisions affected any of our individual learners? If it’s negatively, why have we made that decision? If it’s positively, can we make sure it actually happens?
One of the things I have seen built into at Learning Curve and White Rose, in particular, is not about the diversity and inclusion impact measures, like how many of your learners are still on the programme who, for example, have had an individual need identified, but it’s how do they feel?
I think that’s going to be done through the tutorial system, and asking the learners how they feel rather than some of the objective stuff that we do. It’s quite useful because that’s another way of testing whether, in fact, all of that framework is being implemented consistently. We’ve all seen pockets of great practice in one organisation, then moved to a slightly different part of the organisation, and it isn’t. And that’s the consistency. That’s what we’re trying to get.
I agree, it’s the inconsistency we’ve seen time and time again. Sometimes it can be not just by department, but one member of staff as opposed to another one, you actually see the difference and naturally, that’s where you would lead to. Managers can identify that this member of staff potentially needs a new action plan or CPD schedule because this is inconsistent and what’s worked for one hasn’t worked for the other.
4. What if an organisation says there’s no time to think about equality or do training because they’re too busy?
I’d say you’re setting your staff up to fail and you’re not operating with integrity for your staff and your learners.
I’d say, why would anybody want to work for an organisation like that that doesn’t care for their staff and their learners? Why would an apprentice want to go there? Why would an employer want to send anybody there?
Why have you gone into education, and I realise people are busy, but this is why you need strategies and to be able to prioritise things and have action plans. But I think the vast majority of us have come into education and training because we want to support and help people and that does take time to get right. You have to make that time.
I would say it’s a matter of prioritising. Make the time because you’re going to get the return on investments which is quite significant. It’s not just about delivering your mission, it’s not just about reputation. Ultimately, it makes business sense. The organisations which put equality right at the top of the agenda also are very successful organisations, so you know from a more pragmatic point of view that it’s a very sensible strategy.
I sit on the board of Multiverse who were graded Outstanding a couple of months ago. Their staff retention is phenomenal and it’s what we’re all saying, if you care for your staff, the chances are you’re probably really going to care for your learners and apprentices too. And actually, the apprentice retention is absolutely fabulous as well.
So it’s about making time to care for people because, like Beej says, it makes good business sense. They stay and they do well whether they’re staff or apprentices.
5. What are some of the best methods in evidencing quality?
It is that individual focus and it is taking time to work out what you want to do and have a strategy. Though for evidencing quality, to me, the real thing is about getting close to it.
We can all have self-assessment reports, action plans and policies, but do they work? And the way to find out is by triangulating things. Go out and see it yourself. Go and talk to people. Talk to employers, to apprentices, to staff and listen to what they’re saying. You might hear things that you don’t want to hear, but to me, quality is about getting close to it. The biggest problems that I see are where leaders, in particular, have stepped away from quality and they don’t know what’s happening. They shouldn’t need me as a consultant to go in and tell them, but often they do, and that’s what’s worrying.
So it’s about investing the time to get close to it and have a good old look. And of course, it has to be part of what you’re doing every day. The biggest issue I get is people phoning me to say ‘Ofsted are coming on Monday, help’. Sorry, there’s not really much we can do at that point. It should have been something that you were doing every day for every learner, not just leading up to an inspection, or for Ofsted. It should be your culture.
6. How can providers use of the Education Inspection Framework to provide a truly inclusive learner experience?
I always feel that when we run events like this, we’re actually preaching to the converted, and those who attend are the ones who least need it. Although Ofsted tried to keep the EIF to a very simple and jargon-free document, it is written by experts, so it can be quite hard to access.
Kelly talked before about some problems faced particularly by providers who are new to the field, so my advice to people is to read reports, talk to other providers, attend events like this and try to get a feel for what’s important. What is really important with whichever framework, going back since I started inspecting 25 years ago, is it’s always all about the learner. Are they getting a good deal? Is learning tailored to meet their needs? Are they supported? Are they happy? Are they developing into confident, independent people who can move on with their learning and their careers?
But I think that the framework you were showing at the beginning, Louise, is a really helpful tool for people to use. My advice is always to go out to events like this. Talk to people. Don’t be insular. You can’t do it on your own. Learn from other people.
The Education Inspection Framework is very clear about the importance of SEND, disadvantaged learners and equality and diversity. I know I say this every time, but SEND and disadvantaged learners are mentioned on just about every page of the Educational Inspection Framework and if you look at equality and diversity, it pops up again and again in different sections.
Just in case fear of Ofsted might motivate people to do something, and I’m really sorry to use it as a stick rather than a carrot, the grade descriptor for a grade 4: inadequate for leadership and management is very clearly around governors and leaders not putting into practice the spirit of equality and diversity.
You can have all the policies in the world and they can look fabulous, but if they bear no resemblance to the reality of a learning experience, then they’re worthless. So it really is living and breathing it for everybody.
So if you need a tool to motivate people, just remember: Grade 4 in leadership and management if equality and diversity are not strong.
You’re absolutely spot on with reviewing Ofsted inspection reports, signing up to get the alerts and looking at them as they come through. That’s what we do, and we encourage all our providers to do the same because you really do get a feel for the inspection framework from that.
There is a particular characteristic in things like the beauty sector, expectations that we will always have this underlying set of values because that’s the way you treat the customer or the end-user. It seems ironic that you can have an organisation that has that feature for the end-user, but doesn’t do it with its own staff or its own students, so it’s got to be consistent.
And it is quite important, particularly for apprenticeships, when you’re putting adult learners into new learning situations like sector-based work, academies, kickstart, or the skills bootcamps, that you bring the employer and the employee staff in on this as well. Because we can do everything in identifying the needs of an individual learner in terms of SEND, but if that learner is then on their work placement, how do we make sure that all those things happen there as well?
There’s a big part of the framework which is about educating the employer and the employer’s representatives, which is absolutely critical.
7. Do you think there’s enough support for employers to understand how to deliver support?
We’ve got 1800 employers that work with us at the college. They get invited to the curriculum meetings where we talk about what’s happening with our LDD learners and what’s happening in terms of quality and diversity measures, so the employer gets used to the language, the culture, but also gets those practical hints and tips from a tutor or a workplace assessor which says, ‘have you thought of doing this?’
You can’t expect the employer to simply receive a document or a policy that you send them. I think they’ve got to see it working and it’s going to be relevant to them as well.
It comes back to what Marina said, that it’s great to have the policy and procedure, but the real test is what’s happening in that day-to-day relationship with the apprentice. How well do you support that apprentice? Covid, for example, highlighted that. We had our high needs learners who came into college, they got regular support etc. Now and with covid, what were we doing for our apprentices with high needs? That’s often much more difficult.
What was happening to them? When they were furloughed, where was the support system? We spent a lot of energy making sure that furloughed workers who were apprentices maintained themselves. They were doing a lot of off-the-job training, but we’re also making sure they were getting the learning support.
On the learner journey, the only real pinch points that matter are the learners’ pinch points, not what we, as an organisation, said was supposed to happen. It’s what did happen and how did they feel about it? Because I don’t think we test those feelings enough.
Often within apprenticeships, an apprentice has a mentor who is not the big boss and I think it’s about getting the support to the right people. In my experience, one of the things that really make a good apprenticeship is a strong mentor who knows what they’re doing, has good CPD and is really invested. It is that apprentice’s success that can make all the difference to the quality of apprenticeships.
Is the support for employers getting to the right place? Is it getting to the mentor? Do they want to be the mentor and are they being supported to do a good job?
That’s something that we’ve seen historically, and which we’ve addressed ourselves when we were delivering apprenticeships is that the information will go to, say, a director, but actually, it was Bill here that’s supporting our apprentice, and he needed that. We put a mentor programme in and it was just a couple of hours session for employers to tell employers, this an apprenticeship fundamental, this is how you can mentor and coach. Looking at those strategies and ways to better support the learner had a massive impact with employers because the right person got the right skills to support the apprentice and ultimately, they flourish.
If you run events in your organisation for your own staff on mentoring, coaching, tutoring, how to support someone with individual needs in the workplace, then that must be extended to the workplace mentor, supervisor, whoever the employer’s representative is. It’s absolutely critical that we always invite those people to our events because they are key partners. But sometimes, you’ve got to give some additional help in the form of coaching and mentoring, training and qualifications, and it’s an investment.
We give free places to those people, because very often, you know that they’ve got other priorities and some of them are just surviving at the moment. So if you can do that, you’re certainly at that point where that investment will produce a great return.
I think it feeds a positive culture as well, so it provides this environment where people feel they can come forward and talk about their difficulties and disabilities openly. We know there’s a big problem with stigma and people don’t want to divulge that they may be struggling in a certain area, but that knowledge that you’re providing to employers means they can see the benefit in supporting people and getting people through to their full potential.
About the culture of the organisation, it’s about staff, leaders and managers as well saying, ‘you know, I’ve done the Cognassist initial assessment. I know that all the results are confidential to the actual person who takes for test. But I’ve done it, and I found out things about myself I wish I’d known when I was 16 or 17 instead of my late 50s.’
And then there’s this sort of understanding that we are all different and that we do all have to overcome different barriers. It’s about everybody in the organisation feeling brave and big, just openly talking about how they learn because we are all different. The key thing for me is about removing stigma around additional learning support —which is a term that sounds like a deficit model to me, I much prefer neurodiversity, it sounds much more positive.
Sometimes, we’ve got terminology that needs to be changed, and think about the history of how these words have been used in different ways. One of the things that are critical is that if you’ve got a whole organisation approach to this, even if you’re a small training provider and you’re working with a wide range of small employers, for example, it’s important that it permeates all your relationships with those employers and with those learners. In our context, as bigger organisations, we’ve got learners on work placements, study programmes, traineeships, kick start, sector-based work academies, apprenticeships and a whole range of other things. After a while, that becomes part and parcel of the language across the whole of the curriculum, but I think the one area that always seemed to have a little bit of a deficit model in terms of SEND was the apprenticeships.
It was almost like they were saying, we look after our high needs students because we see them. We have supported internships, we know the adults that are with us on full-time access programmes, but it’s those that sometimes get no support at all. And then we’d be surprised if they weren’t retained and they didn’t complete. They didn’t get to endpoint assessment. So I think there is still a big agenda item.
That’s why you’re right to create the Quality Assurance Framework and point it initially at apprenticeships and traineeships. But you know, my concern with some of the skills boot camps is the lack of support, because the focus is on Level 3 and above, but there are Level 3 and above learners that have individual needs. And how do you make sure in that 12 to 16-week programme that those needs are being met and that it isn’t acting as a barrier to that person getting that job. So I think there are still other areas that we need to apply the frameworks to, not just apprenticeships.
8. What do you think of the limited exemption criteria for functional skills for those with LDD?
I’d like to see it being extended because it’s clearly creating problems for our apprentices and we’ve got those exemptions that are almost always temporary. I would like to see it being extended because I think that’s an aspect of occupational competence that we need to look at and how important it is to have alternative models which we’ve already applied. But certainly, I would like to see that being permanently established because that shouldn’t be one of the barriers that stops someone progressing in employment.
So I think that also means that we’ve got to focus on how we start to support someone with literacy and numeracy and language needs right through the apprenticeship, but also into their job. Adaptations through access to work are often physical adaptations, aren’t they? What about support for someone with language and communication needs?
If you look at the Education Inspection Framework for early years and for schools, you’ll see that there’s a massive emphasis now on developing literacy. I was working with somebody earlier this week where they’ve just recruited 100 14-year-olds in a school. Five of those have a reading age of five years old. This is a massive national problem and we have to get it right all the way through the education system, because reading is important.
In the workplace, it’s very important from a health and safety point of view that you can read certain things in the office. There’s also being able to progress your career in terms of how you might write an email and knowing how to put a report together. I think there does need to be a big emphasis on developing literacy, but as we all said, it mustn’t exclude people and it must start much earlier on.
I completely agree, particularly if you’re working with people within sectors like health and care. Getting those medications wrong? That’s potentially somebody’s life. So there are those cost goals and they do need to be addressed.
9. Where is a good place to start the equality conversation?
For me, it’s going straight into the Education Inspection Framework and having a look at that. Start picking what is required and then have a look at the framework which Cognassist have put together as well. It’s really clear. Look at the learner’s journey. Look at how you can embed it through every single point of the learner’s journey and hold up a bit of a mirror, think whether you actually do this at this stage and if you don’t, that’s an action. Then you can assess yourself against that.
Use the Education Inspection Framework and the Quality Assurance Framework together and do that while looking at yourself. But make sure that the steps that you take are smaller steps to start with, because you’ll get some success, some sense of achievement.
I’ve seen some small training in different parts of the country who have tried to have a complete root and branch review of every activity and then ran out of energy very quickly because they had no outcomes. They had lots of documents, rather than anything to do specifically with, for example, the start points for the next cohort of apprentices. They were halfway through their 200-page document with checklists and things like that. Be very practical and make sure you can manage it and get some of those little things done straight away. Look at your marketing, your recruitment, look at the start points; are you guaranteeing that every single individual learner’s start point has been established to the same degree?
Exactly, those quick wins build momentum motivation. Start with the simple stuff as well.
Talk to your staff and your learners. I bet they know and they’ll tell you. Get their feedback and start asking those questions around the EIF and around the new quality framework but just talk to people. They’re living it and using it every day. See what they’re saying about what’s working and what’s not working. But if you only focus on one thing, it’s the IAG and the starting points. Because if you don’t get the beginning of the programme right, nothing else is going to be right after that.
Post-COVID, how many of you have done a review of how well you supported your learners during the three lockdowns? And has that actually shown quite an important light on what you thought was going to happen but actually did not necessarily happen? In other words, I know we’ve done it and it was salutary. Sometimes you thought giving everyone a laptop and the ability to get on Wi-Fi was going to solve the problem, but it didn’t do it for everyone.
So I think there’s a bit of a postscript analysis that will tell you how effective and really embedded all your support systems were for those individual learners, including the high flyers. So that’s another aspect that I would add.
And situations change. Somebody may not have had a learning difficulty before the pandemic, but something may have occurred during the pandemic that has caused one, and it’s that monthly review that is absolutely crucial for all learners, really. That conversation needs to be ongoing, doesn’t it?
Yes, and I think that’s around mental health as well. For example, there’s so much around wellbeing and mental health that I think we need to explore a lot further.
There’s so many that are anxious to return to learning, whatever they’ve experienced during COVID, and it’s having those different approaches for different learners. Is it that actually this learner needs a phased return to come back into learning because they’re just not ready, but we have a plan in place and this is how we’re going to get them there. And then you’ve got others that want to waltz straight through the door and get back in.
Every learner is different, so we need to make sure that we come back to that and actually have those plans and methods in place for the learners.
One thing a lot of our learners said was that during the lockdowns, they appreciated how much more contact we had with them. In some cases, it was almost every day. It was certainly every week and they said that was far better than what they had before when it might have been once a month. They really welcomed how much support we were providing in terms of morale and the commitment and motivation as well as the practicalities of the individual learning plan.
I heard a great saying which was ‘we’ve all been through the same storm, but we’re all in different boats’. We’ve all experienced it differently, so we’re not all in the same boat. We’ve been through the same storm, but in different parts. Some have been through in a cruise ship and some have been through in a dinghy.
It’s like education, like going for an apprenticeship or the education system, it’s different for all of us. We’re all in different boats.
If you liked this panel, you’re going to love the third panel’s Q&A all around embedding equality. In TQS #3, Dr. Louise Karwowski was joined by Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies, Karen Bennett, Education & Skills Funding Agency and Kasim Choudhry, BAME Apprenticeship Network.