The Importance of Initial Assessments and Recognising Prior Learning in Apprenticeships


Dan Howard, Operations Director of Learning for Work at NCFE, delves into the importance of Initial Assessments and the benefits these bring to learners. 

From my years of experience in both the employability and skill sectors, I’ve seen how Initial Assessments (IAs) have provided a vital step in thousands of apprenticeships. Conducted prior to the beginning of the programme, they aim to help training providers and colleges better understand the learner’s abilities in line with the proposed apprenticeship, as well as assess their starting point to better set them up for success. By completing an IA, educators are forming the essential building blocks of the learner’s individual programme, the foundations for success.

For training providers and colleges, IAs are vital as they formally recognise prior learning (RPL) and ensure that the programme content, duration, and price is appropriate for the learner. If the RPL is not recognised, issues around funding, course content and more can arise, creating a costly problem for the provider, as well as quality concerns in relation to the delivery model of the apprenticeship. While it is imperative that educators discover each learner’s RPL to stay on track with the funding rules, the equally crucial benefit of RPL on the learners themselves cannot be emphasised enough.

So, how does Recognising Prior Learning help learners?

By establishing the starting point for the learner, it becomes much easier to see the distance travelled as their apprenticeship progresses – clearly showing the value of the programme in real time to the individual, and to their employer.

The possibility of training duplication is greatly reduced, as the IA will identify and evidence the training still required by the apprentice to become occupationally competent in their role.

Likewise, the correct use of IA and RPL will help to determine if the apprenticeship route is suitable and also helps to plan the duration, milestones and objectives that need to be met.

This accurate mapping of milestones and objectives helps to better ensure success, and so that learners can achieve more quickly and enter their careers sooner than if they had to retake elements of their assessments.

Ultimately, completing an IA can ensure that the content tailored to the learner is more engaging, leading to higher participation, retention, and achievement rates as well as onward progression – whether that be into their careers, or onto another apprenticeship or further study.

Supporting learners and ensuring that they are getting the most out of their apprenticeship is of the utmost importance, which is why training organisations must accurately recognise prior learning.

How can training providers and colleges accurately assess RPL?

Where some educators deliver IAs solely in English and maths, learners may miss the opportunity to have their RPL reflect relevant course content before commencing their apprenticeship. And commonly, IAs are tracked through internal spreadsheets which do not guarantee standardisation or quality.

The Skills Review platform from NCFE can help learners and educators with IAs, document RPL, document and evidence adjustments to duration, content and funding, and also help to keep employers up to date on their apprentice’s progress throughout their training.

Skills Review offers a detailed self-assessment skills gap analysis of the knowledge, skills and behaviours within the apprenticeship standard, and is employer and provider validated to accurately capture an individual’s true starting point.

Our IA process goes beyond English and maths competency by assessing against the skills, knowledge and behaviours of the standard. Going further than the IA, Skills Review also helps training providers and colleges to keep the employer up to date on the apprentice’s progress throughout their apprenticeship by continuously monitoring gateway readiness.

At NCFE, the learner is at the heart of all that we do, which is why our Skills Review solution works to ensure apprentices are fully supported and set up for every success.

For more information, visit or email

IA Infographic

Now is the time to make the most out of the levy


With the first anniversary of the Levy fast approaching, 2018 has already started to see a huge change in the market and it’s a great time for businesses to think seriously about their options and how best to use this to their advantage.

Levy funds can be used for anything from new apprenticeship starters to up-skilling current employees, and any unspent funds are returned to the treasury after 24 months, which is why the deadline is an opportunity for business leaders to take advantage while they can.  

At Seetec, we’re now seeing the highest level of Levy starts so far this year. The impending deadline coupled with strong, strategic planning has boosted employee communications and engagement. Losing out financially has meant that Levy numbers have increased and we anticipate that the second quarter will be our busiest for starts ever.

For British businesses, there is the chance to up skill workforces and deliver real returns by taking advantage of the Levy, and it’s great to see people moving up the career ladder and in turn creating new opportunities for others. But leaders looking to get on board will have to think seriously about the next steps towards progression and do their research, as the upcoming quarter is a critical time for the Levy.

The introduction of complicated new rules and lack of preparation and consideration have created the perfect storm which has had a massive impact on the sector. There is still a lot of change ahead and the market, and its supply base, will continue to evolve over the coming months,  but 2018 should see new jobs, reduced skills gaps and developing workforces that can only help our British businesses thrive.

The good news is that from April, the government is allowing organisations to transfer up to 10% of their Levy fund to other organisations, meaning that smaller companies don’t necessarily have to miss out as a result.

For anyone wondering how to make the most of the Levy for their business, consider the following:

Don’t Be Levy Led
Communicating to your staff that your strategy  is about meeting the future skills requirements of your business, not “because the government has introduced a new tax”, but because you understand what your business needs to achieve and how your employees can help you achieve it, ensures the workforce takes it as seriously as you do. Communicating what this means for individuals and their teams will help with engagement.

Think About Progression
Where will the learners go next? Where are the skills shortages within the business? What do your future skills requirements look like? These are quite standard questions but coupled with the possible bureaucracy of government funding (eligibility, progression rules, emerging standards) it is critical to lay this out at the outset – your chosen partner should be able to fill in the gaps here.

Choose The Right Partner
As with all relationships, finding the right partner is much more than the ‘offer’, matching culture, ethos, direction and skill sets will enable a fruitful long-term relationship.  All stakeholders in the partnership need to buy into the strategy, understand it and own it.

Keep Up To Date
There is now the option for larger organisations to pay their levy funds down to smaller businesses both within their supply chain and outside of it. This will help them to up skill and improve the services they offer and could have a huge impact on the whole market. There will continue to be developments in the proposition and its guidance so in order to maximise any changes, keep yourself updated or work with a specialist provider who can keep you informed.

Daniel Lally is a Levy Business Consultant at Seetec. He and his colleague, Sales Director Steve Barker, will be attending the CIPD Learning and Development Show at the Olympia in London on 25th – 26th April. For more information, visit