In addition to being a staff tutor and module tutor, I’m also a practice tutor (PT) . A practice tutor is someone who supports the delivery of the university’s DTS (digital and technology solutions professional) degree apprenticeship programme. There is an important difference between the PT and an OU academic tutor. In the DTS scheme, PT is one of the key individuals in the student’s journey. The role of the PT is to provide a consistent link between the apprentice’s world of work and academic study.
On 15 May 21 I attended what was called a practice tutor development day. The aim of this event was to provide further training and development for practice tutors, and to enable practice tutors to share experiences with each other and the apprenticeship delivery team.
This blog presents a sketch of what was covered during the day. I’m sharing these notes just in case it might be useful for fellow delegates (and fellow practice tutors), or anyone else who might be interested in how the OU is supporting its degree apprenticeship programme. It also represents a summary of one of the useful CPD events that have taken place over the year.
Preparing for Ofsted
This first section was facilitated by Andy Hollyhead, Chris Thomson and Craig Jackson, but much of the material for this session was delivered by Craig, who began with a question: what would the result of a negative inspection be?
Craig presented a broad summary of the Ofstead assessment process, saying something about what happens when an assessment takes place. I noted that four areas will be judged: the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management. Craig mentioned that “some inspectors will look at specific areas, such as leadership and management”.
Different types of documents may be scrutinised to gain a sense of what is happening and how learners are progressing. Inspectors may scrutinise how improvements are measured and made and may speak to different members of staff, including apprentices, practice tutors, line managers, central academics, managers and leaders from the ‘training provider’. A decision about a rating will be made via trangulation; looking at different bits of evidence to come to a final decision.
Before moving onto the next session, I noted down a few relevant points that were made by Chris: the role of a PT is to map academic wok to job activities. I also noted that work based learning modules are focussed on work based skills that are not technical in nature, such as project management and personal management.
Tripartite meetings: good practice
This next session, which was about facilitating meetings with apprentices and employers, was facilitated by Alison Leese. Alison began with an important question: why are the review meetings important? They can be used to manage expectations, establish and review individual learning plans, set and plan to achieve success, to share perspectives, they can be used to identify challenges, and to provide feedback.
For the first meeting, it is important to scheduled and prepare for it, and it should be an opportunity to finalise an individualised learning plan and prepare for the first review.
In normal circumstances, there should be one face to face meeting per year. The first meeting is likely to take place face to face. During this fort meeting, there should be the sharing of roles and responsibilities; a discussion about what everyone does, and the introduction of the concept of the module (academic) tutor, and highlighting other roles that exist within the background, such as a staff tutor (a practice tutor line manager), and the Apprentice Programme Delivery Manager, who liaises with the employer or line manager. I noted down the point that the line manager must provide sufficient diversity within a job role to ensure that sufficient experience is gained to enable the learning outcomes of the DTS scheme to be met.
For each progress review, it is important to effectively schedule and prepare. Progress should be documented (currently through the university ePortfolio system) and objectives reviewed. An apprentice’s individual learning plan should be updated should there have been any changes in the apprentice’s situation, such as working location or accessibility needs. After every quarterly review, everything should be finalised within a 10 working day period.
Some points I noted down during the session were: use an initial meeting agenda/checklist, and for each progress review have a review checklist or agenda which may contain points such as: update ILP, objectives and gateway requirements (such as English and Maths skills). I also noted down that there was some cross-faculty induction material that was available on the apprentice hub, such as a summary of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.
Practice tutors should refer or apprentices if an apprentice is not making sufficient progress, needs additional support, requests change of study programme, or isn’t being provided with the very important 20% off the job time (Gov.uk website), there is a change in job roles, or the line manager is not engaging sufficiently.
Safeguarding at the OU
Safeguarding is the process of protecting children and vulnerable adults from neglect. This is an important subject since the university has over two thousand registered students who are under the age of 18. The OU safeguarding team works with the OU student’s association, the student support teams, and the student resource and support centres (SRSC).
At the start of the section we were asked: how might PTs have contract with safeguarding in their roles? There might be phone calls or emails, or disclosures that take place in other ways, such as through assessments or one to one support sessions.
The university has a responsibility to support its students, and their children, or any vulnerable adults who a student might be looking after. The terminology used to refer to a vulnerable adult is different in different parts of the UK. In Wales the term is: an “adult at risk”. In Scotland, the term is “protected adult”.
An important point was made during this session, which was: “working with apprentices means that they [the student or the apprentice] are supported not just by the OU but also by their employer”.
To refer a student, an email could be sent directly to the safeguarding team, or a webform could be submitted.
Apprentice onboarding, on programme support and offboarding
This session was jointly facilitated by Nathalie Collins, Jackie Basquille and Charlotte Knock. Jackie began by speaking about the functional skills team. Degree apprentice students must gain the equivalent of A* to C, or scores 4 to 9 in Maths and English by the end of their studies. During the onboarding process (or, induction, as I call it), students will carry out a skills audit, will be interviewed, and there will be a review of their job role.
The onboarding (induction) process was summarised as follows: an information advice and guidance seminar, sharing of evidence of a link between job role and a chosen apprenticeship scheme, a core and specialism skills audit (the core skills audit refer to essential knowledge, skills and behaviours), a one to one discussion with an apprenticeship programme delivery manager, and the checking of prior qualifications. All this leads to a signed commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement (which gets stored to the ePortfolio system). When this is done, there is then an induction webinar.
Sometimes apprentices may require breaks in learning; a subject covered by Charlotte. There is an important difference between a break in learning (BiL) and a deferral. A deferral is a postponement of an exam or an equivalent assessment. A break in learning is possible due to a recognised number of reasons, such as (1) an economic reason, (2) long term sickness, (3) maternity leave, (4) religious trips, and (5) Covid related reasons.
The process for a break in learning begins a discussion with a practice tutor, who then speak with an ADPM, who then contacts the organisation apprentice lead. Whether a break is possible or not may depend on exactly where the apprentice is in their studies. An apprentice lead within an employer organisation will need to “sign off”, or approve a break in studies.
The final part of the day was all about sharing experiences. We were put into small breakout rooms (with approximately 6 colleagues, mostly fellow practice tutors) where we began to share experiences of facilitating review meetings. We also looked at a short case study, and then went on to discuss the challenges we uncovered in a plenary room.
During the event, I collected some links to useful resources that were shared through the text chat channel.
Apprentices who are enrolled within the Digital and technology solutions programme are able to access the Apprentices studying the DA DTS site. Practice tutors can also access this page to get an understanding of what students can see.
Practice tutors can access an interactive mapping template (OU apprenticeship pages), which shows the connection between modules, apprenticeship specialisms and the criteria of the qualification. This page also provides a link to a more detailed mapping tool (OU apprenticeship pages).
In my very early days of being a practice tutor, I wasn’t entirely whether I was doing the right thing. I enjoyed my first meetings with the new apprentice students and their employers. To prepare, I arrived with meetings armed with a summary of the programme, and I talked everyone through the principles of OU study and what it meant, and then summarised the programme that an apprentice was about to start. Although I seemed to be doing the right thing, I wasn’t completely sure whether I was doing everything right.
I found this session really helpful, since I felt it consolidated some of my knowledge and understanding, emphasised the importance of certain deadlines and activities, and also gave me a steer towards some useful resources which I could use with apprentices during some of their meetings. During the next meetings, I’m definitely going to take the apprentices through the mapping tool, either during online or during face to face meetings.
There were a couple of tools that I heard about that I didn’t know too much about: there were the checklists for the meetings that I need to find, and there’s the practice tutor eTMA system, where we can get more of a view about how an apprentice is getting along. On this point, I need to be clear about boundaries and responsibilities: my role is to help apprentices connect their assessments and academic study to work activity.
One activity that I need to do is to get a more thorough and detailed understanding of the work-based learning modules. I guess that every practice tutor has slightly different levels of understanding of the different modules that their apprentice students’ study. Being an academic tutor on one of the modules on a shared pathway, I feel as if I’ve got a pretty good (if broad) handle on the academic modules. I do feel as if I need to find the time to really nail down my understanding of some of the later work based learning modules. Perhaps this will be the subject of my next apprenticeship blog.
This event was organised by the Computing and Communications English apprenticeship team, which comprises of Andy Hollyhead and Chris Thomson. Acknowledgements are also extended from the wider university apprenticeship team who are based in the Business Development Unit (BDU).