9 improvements in the Assistant Accountant apprenticeship standard v1.2

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The Level 3 Assistant Accountant apprenticeship standard has been refreshed after seven years. From social media skills to an end-point assessment that’s more inclusive for neurodiverse students, here’s what you need to know about version 1.2.

A new standard for the Level 3 Assistant Accountant occupation and end-point assessment (EPA) plan goes live on 1 August. It has been refreshed to reflect the new working environments many businesses now find themselves in.

The Assistant Accountant occupational standard and EPA plan is the first update to the standard since 2016 and will incorporate many of the changes which have happened to the accounting profession in recent years, such as the shift to hybrid/flexible working, a greater focus on digital/strategic skills, and increased awareness of mental health, inclusion and neurodiversity.

The Assistant Accountant apprenticeship standard is found in all sectors and industries, ranging from SMEs to large global corporations through to public sector organisations such as the civil service. The activities of an assistant accountant within a workplace typically include data entry, month-end management accounts and year-end financial statements, completing VAT returns or assisting the preparation of tax computations.

The benchmark for the new standard was developed by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE) and has been two years in the making. Here, Kara Mason, who was chair of IFATE’s Trailblazer group, which developed the standard (she also has a day job as director of finance, estates and planning in the East Cheshire NHS Trust) talks us through the main changes:

Assistant Accountant apprenticeship webinar

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1. It’s by employers for employers

Kara says: “Hopefully, employers should relate to this new standard more because it’s been written by leaders who regularly employ accounting apprentices [IFATE’s Trailblazer group, which developed the standard was largely formed of employers], rather than an education provider. These employers know the kind of tasks and challenges faced by assistant accountants in the workplace.

Standards such as this give employers the assurance students have a list of competencies that they’re required to do in their job. As for students, it shows them the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they’ll walk away with when completing the course, which will set them on their career paths and hopefully onto the next level of the apprenticeship.”

2. The EPA is more inclusive

Kara says: “One of the biggest updates to the EPA is that we’ve now got a knowledge assessment with 40 multiple-choice questions.”

Previously, the assessment lasted three hours, and apprentices would have used the full time to complete that assessment. Now, 60 minutes has been given for preparation, research and reflection. Students are typically expected to be able to complete the questions in 90 minutes, but they get 150 minutes in total to do the best they can.

Kara adds: “We’ve also made the EPA open book [which allows students to refer to their notes and other materials in the exam; it gives students an opportunity to apply their learning, rather than demonstrating what they remember] so students can take in their textbooks.

Having an open book assessment also helps neurodiverse students [traditional exams can be a barrier for many people with neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD], those students whose first language isn’t English and students who have never sat a conventional exam because of the pandemic and would therefore find it stressful.”

3. Funding increased to £12,000

Kara says: “The funding band [the maximum amount the government will contribute towards the qualification for the apprentice] has increased from £8,000 to £12,000 [per student]. This money goes to the training provider to ensure they deliver a quality experience when training the student.”

One of the new Behaviours in the new Assistant Accountant standard is that the student “demonstrates a commitment to personal wellbeing and an awareness of support and resources available”, along with “contributing to cultivating an open, honest, and empathetic work environment.”

Kara says: “This is quite ground-breaking for an apprenticeship. We’re asking the individual to take responsibility for their wellbeing, as well as others.”

AAT’s Level 3 diploma mandated

As part of the review, it was decided to mandate AAT’s Level 3 Diploma in Accounting.

This means employers can now use apprenticeship funding to pay for AAT registration and assessment fees.

4. Diversity and inclusion built-in

The Knowledge element of the new standard requires students to acquire knowledge on “approaches to diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness and their impact on finance and accountancy”. Meanwhile the Behaviours section asks the student “builds strong collaborative working relationships recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion.”

Kara says: “We really wanted to include the importance of diversity and inclusion, and we’re asking students to demonstrate how they’re demonstrating that within the workplace and incorporating into their everyday activities.”

5. Understanding of social media – and its pitfalls…

The Skills section of the standard requires students “communicate using varying approaches and different media methods with an appreciation of the risks and benefits to the business of social media and other digital applications.

Kara says: “With digital, social media and even Teams meetings, students are expected to communicate with colleagues and external customers in a way that I didn’t when starting my career. Such digital skills are all part of our jobs now, especially for younger colleagues. To achieve their apprenticeship qualifications, students will need to demonstrate they’ve got the skills to communicate through social media and other tech, but also understand their risks too.”

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6. Increased business awareness

As part of the standard’s Knowledge element, students are asked to understand “the role of accountancy or finance within the organisational business strategy”

Kara says: “The role of accountancy is changing; today accountants are increasingly working as business partners in addition to their traditional tasks. Because students are now expected to operate in different environments, we’ve now included business awareness in the standard.”

7.  Apprentices will have defined duties

Apprentices will now have to complete a set of “occupation duties.” These may span assisting with monthly and year-end reporting of financial accounts, safeguarding for suspicious activities such as anti-money laundering and to “use digital systems safely to ensure the cyber security of the organisation isn’t compromised.”

Kara says: “Setting out core duties is a big change. It speaks to the employer and lets them know what the standard is trying to achieve. It also helps apprentices approach their employer and ask for support with these duties.”

8. The standard is more accessible

Kara says: “The language and presentation of the new framework is less vague than the previous standard. We want the apprentice and training provider to understand what they’re expected to do in their KSBs, or what we’re asking them to do when compiling their portfolio of evidence.”

9. Employers have been consulted throughout

Kara says: “It’s taken us just over two years to bring this standard together. We formed an ‘Accounts System Trailblazer Group’, which consisted of 15-20 representatives, mostly employers but also some training providers. There was a good cross-section representation of employers, spanning large businesses such as Network Rail, SMEs, chartered accountancy practices and public sector organisations such as the NHS and Hampshire County Council – and training providers such as Kaplan. We’ve put the whole standard/framework out to consultation a couple of times, incorporating any comments into the draft.”

Further information

The new Assistant Accountant standard becomes active on 1 August. To read it, head here:

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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