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Guest Blog - Roxy Sachdev - How Best Can Early Years Leaders Support Their Apprentices? An Assessors Point Of View.

February 4, 2024
14 minute read

Roxy Sachdev – Swift Apprenticeships

Over the years the way that we think about and look after our students and apprentices has changed. The qualification has changed, and the expectation has changed.

It's hard to break into an industry with no experience, whether you’re coming straight form school or into early years from another industry completely, an apprenticeship is likely to be the best way to gain the experience, training and qualifications that you need to be a successful early years practitioner.

We were all students once – some of us an absolute lifetime ago, and it's often difficult to remember what it was like for us then. It is so important to get into your time machine and take that trip down memory lane in order to think about how we can get the best from our apprentices and make some amazing practitioners who will stay with us, and the industry forever.

Ask yourselves, “what was it that I needed from my leaders when I was new in the game?” and “what kind of leader can I be for our students and apprentices?” Maybe you might also like to ask yourself “What is important to the industry, and how can I get through to the apprentices so that they have the same adoration for the industry that I do?” That would be your starting point in providing the best support that you can for your apprentices.

Following on from my Podcast with Hannah at The Early Years Company, I, with some help from my colleagues at Swift Apprenticeships, have written down some ways in which you can best support your students and apprentices.

So firstly, what is the role of the manager in supporting students and assessors?

· Although you, the manager, will be their overall supervisor, it is advised that the apprentice has a named mentor in the setting, preferably in the main room that they work in – this can be a manager, deputy, room leader or an experienced member of the team – make sure that the person you choose is a good example, and that their conduct and competency is something that you want the apprentice to follow. Give the mentor some advice and support when working with the apprentice too.

· Supporting an apprentice is everybody’s responsibility – and make sure that your team know that supporting the apprentice is part of their role too – set an expectation with the mentor for what their role is in supporting the apprentice, what you expect from the whole team – and what your role will be also.

· Check in regularly with the mentor – what is the apprentice doing well and where might they need some extra support – think about what you can put in place and who will lead on that.

· Spend some time yourself with the apprentice. This could be in many different forms, for example observing, shadowing and feeding back. Ensure that you spend some time coaching your mentors and apprentices to make sure that you know where they are at, and are supporting their confidence, knowledge, skills and behaviours to grow.

· Promote reflection –Ask your apprentices thought provoking questions so that the apprentice can learn their own areas for development and be in charge of their journey. How do you think it went? What went well? What are you proud of? Where might you make some changes? Why? What would that look like? Where could you develop that? How? What did you learn? How will you apply this new knowledge and experience to your work with the children moving forward? All of these questions will empower the apprentice to think about what’s next in their learning – and how they will take those steps in becoming that competent, reflective and resourceful practitioner that always strives for the best. Be reflective yourself, and model your own reflections to the apprentice where appropriate, show them that we are all reflective, and this is how we do it.

· Set expectations and boundaries early on – let the apprentice know how they are expected to behave and what you will need from them to be able to fully support them. Show them that you are invested in them, and what is acceptable. Set expectations to the mentor also, think about what level of support you would expect them to be giving to the apprentice, how much time and what the in house training and support would look like.

· Have a copy of the KSB’s (Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours) and some tools to support them to achieve them during their working week so that they are logging their OTJ (Off The Job Hours). Think about what training you can send them on, and when you can release them from numbers to work on the evidence and learning they need for their OTJ. Who can they shadow, doing what, and when? And what can they have a go at themselves for the first time, and when?

What is KSB’s and Off The Job?

There are different elements that need to be completed in order to gain the full apprenticeship – there Is the Diploma aspect – which is the teaching and learning that we, the assessors, provide. This is broken down into 23 units and is the evidence that we, the assessors, gather during our visits, through assignments and other types of evidence such as work products and discussions. Then there’s The Standard (or KSB’s and OTJ), and the EPA (End Point Assessment).

· The Standard is the KSB’s or Knowledge, Skills and Behaviors that have been identified by industry experts. They are what we would expect all practitioners to know, be able to do, and behave like (please download a free copy of the KSB’s here) – these are evidenced through work products, off the job, and through feedback and reflections. We will check right at the start, during onboarding, where the apprentice is starting in terms of their Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours. Usually the manager would be included in the Skills Scan, which is a baseline assessment of the KSB’s, then during a regular review we will do a midpoint assessment and an end point assessment of the KSB’s so make sure that the apprentice is ready to go through EPA.

· Off The Job Hours (or OTJ) is any CPD that takes place during a learners working hours – this includes teaching and learning sessions through the training provider, reading policies, research, learning a new skills at work or being given a new task to do that they had not done before, undertaking training and courses such as first aid and safeguarding or any other learning that takes place at work that link to the KSB’s. In order for it to count towards their apprenticeship, this MUST be done during the apprentices working week – if an out of hours arrangement has been made for training such as First Aid, the apprentice must either be paid for this, or have the time back in Lieu or we can’t claim those hours. OTJ usually makes up around 20% of the apprentices usual working hours, although each training provider will have a slightly different expectation and required amount of hours that the learner must complete before they can go through EPA.

· EPA (End Point Assessment) will only go ahead once the diploma, functional skills or math’s and English GCSE’s are completed, signed off, and certificates claimed, as well as the first aid training complete, certificate has been claimed and received.

The End Point Assessment is made up of an exam which is multiple choice and a professional discussion based on the portfolio of evidence for the KSB’s. The portfolio of evidence will include OTJ, assignments and observations of the apprentice which are gathered throughout the apprenticeship. The EPA is carried out by an independent end point assessment organization – not the provider who is assessing the apprentice. The training provider will carry out a mock EPA with each apprentice towards the end of their practical period – some quizzes and discussions around the KSB’s will be very helpful for the apprentice during the coaching and support that you give them – it would be great if you could ask somebody unfamiliar to have a discussion with them, as this will prepare them for the unfamiliar person at EPA.

How can a manager make sure they are working alongside the assessor?

· Know your assessor – be in regular contact, answer emails, chat on the phone and make some time during the visit to catch up and have a chat. The best apprentices have a supportive manager and assessor who work together, in partnership. This includes conducting feedback together, conducting regular reviews together and sharing progress.

· Be available during visits – At the end of each visit I like to meet with the manager to feed back on what we did, what we’re working on and how the apprentice is getting on. I don’t need a lot of time – usually 20-30 minutes should be enough. Where you have time, it might be a nice idea to carry out a joint observation – even if just for a small part of the visit, and feedback to the learner together. The learner reviews happen regularly, each training provider has a different schedule, but here at SWIFT they happen every 8 weeks – they are a funding requirement, and part of that is to include feedback from the employer about how the apprentice is progressing. Its really important that you make yourself, or a representative, available for these review meetings, preferably for the whole review, but at very minimum a small portion of the meeting.

· Make sure that you schedule in time for training and development of the apprentice – so that you know that they are completing their 20% off the job hours. Chasing and backdating OTJ takes up a huge amount of our time and knowing that you have it under control means that we can spend our time developing the apprentices rather than chasing them.

· Trust your apprentice – don’t just give them the boring jobs that nobody wants to do all the time (we all have to do them sometimes), allow them to lead activities and circle times, give them one or two key children once they are settled into the setting and allow them to have access to parents. The apprentice will really benefit when you let them have a go and feedback with them when they are trying something new, and will help us assessors to gather the evidence that we need.

· Give your apprentice a purpose – give them weekly tasks to do that will grow their confidence and allow them to be responsible, accountable and a valued member of your team. They will naturally take on more, do more and grow their confidence, so when we talk to them about what they have been doing, and how their learning has supported their practice they’ll give us lots of examples of unplanned learning that have taken place holistically in your setting.

So what are some hints and tips I can follow to make sure that apprentice is supported?

· Planning is key – work with your assessor to know what units of the diploma they are working on so that you can provide opportunities for the apprentice to put their knowledge into practice – share that knowledge with the staff in the rooms, they can add it into their planning too!

· Bring the KSB’s into your team meetings and make it a point on the agenda of what Off The Job hours each apprentice will be able to complete over the week/month/half term – a whole team approach is key in making sure that the apprentice is getting what they need, and the setting is getting what they need from the apprentice.

· Be kind to your apprentice and remember that this is likely their first job, or first time in a new industry – they might not get it right all of the time, and they are there to learn from you and your teams – make sure that they are valued and included as you would with established members of the team.

· Remember: The apprentices are not cheap labour, they are our future practitioners, teachers, leaders and managers – we want to be the manager that they think of and want to be like when they progress throughout their career – who did you need when you were a student? Can you be that person?

· Delegate – encourage your teams to allow your apprentice to shadow, or talk them though something new. Encourage your room leaders to check in and make sure that the apprentice is doing their work – involve the whole team in supporting not only the apprentice, but by creating a growth culture in your setting.

· Quizzes – check your apprentices knowledge, make sure they know about safeguarding, the EYFS, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and everything else early years related.

· Language – share industry jargon with them, let them know what the three I’s are and how to talk about it. Encourage them to learn our dialect and understand the what’s and why’s behind everything we do. The what’s and why’s are just as important as the who’s, when’s and how’s when training a new apprentice.

· Have regular discussions about what they are learning and how that is being put into practice – ask for examples of how they meet each KSB in the practice, and what it looks like.

· Notice a job well done and efforts being made – a quiet whisper to an apprentice will mean the world, especially when they are new and nervous. Commenting on a task that you have seen or heard about them completing, whether packing away, setting up, interactions with children, staff or parents, an activity idea or anything at all – it will give them the boost that they need and I’m sure you’ll see more of that good work from them too!

· Help them to manage their workload. It’s tough going studying and working at the same time. I would advise that you schedule some time in for the apprentice to upload their work, contact their assessor, write up the OTJ logs and make a plan for what they want to achieve for the coming week. This small bit of structure can be very helpful in supporting the apprentice to manage their time and their workload.

This seems like a lot, but once you’ve thought about it and put something in place it will become second nature, or a habit, just like that 2pm cup of tea and choccy biccy!

Our apprentices are so important to our settings and industry as a whole, and we have the important job of helping them to grow and develop into the next generation of leaders, practitioners and teachers who will make such a difference to the children and families lives. Supporting an apprentice is work to spend time on and be proud of, as a little bit of us will follow those apprentices throughout their whole career – and how’s that for a legacy!?

So, what makes SWIFT such a great place for apprentices?

Here at Swift we are developing the next generation of education professionals one step at a time. We care. Like really care. Not just about the industry, but about each individual apprentice and each setting that we work with. We want the best settings for our apprentices and we want the best apprentices for our settings. We are here to help to rebuild and reshape the early years industry, focusing on quality teaching and learning for our apprentices, and in turn, providing the children with quality early years education and care, in settings where staff are happy, supportive, and that want to be there, so everyone can thrive.


· 94% of Swift apprentices that complete their apprenticeship progress into full time employment or further education.

· 72% of apprentices that complete their apprenticeship with Swift secure a permanent job with their current employer.

· 49% of Swift Early Years apprenticeship achievers are awarded a distinction.

Swift Childcare apprentices also achieve:

· 26% higher retention and completion rates than the national average for Level 3 Early Years Educator.

· 13.3% more distinctions than any other students on the NCFE Early Years Educator programme.

· 16% higher retention and completion rate than the national average for Level 2 Early Years Practitioner.

· 9% more distinctions than any other students on the NCFE Early Years Practitioner programme.

· 100% timely achievements and completion of their End Point Assessment (EPA).

Are you interested in reading more about our work, or recruiting an apprentice? Please visit our website for more information Swift Childcare - Developing the Next Generation of Professionals.

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