The latest lockdown has seen a decrease in the number of students sitting assessments at exam centres. For Apprentices approaching End Point Assessment, now is a great time to focus on putting the final touches to their portfolio, in preparation for the reflective element of End Point Assessment (EPA).
Life in lockdown is giving everybody time to pause and reflect. That could mean ruminating on the importance of loved ones and relationships, or maybe reassessing whether a new pair of Nike Cortez trainers or handbag every few months is really as important as you once thought.
It’s time to get reflective
For AAT apprentices, reflection is also critical, as it forms a key part of the end-point assessment (EPA), especially part 2.
If you’ve already gathered (or are gathering) together a portfolio of evidence from your workplace, the next stage for apprentices is to undertake a reflective statement, which can either be a verbal discussion with an AAT independent assessor conducted remotely on our new SEPA smart room software (Levels 3 or 4) or written (Level 4).
The good news? You could be making good use of your empty diaries and working on these elements right now.
Apprentices are still able to train during lockdown. You might not be visiting the workplace anymore – or if you’ve been furloughed, you could be banned from working completely – but that doesn’t mean your apprenticeship should be put on pause.
Professional discussion/written statement
Finishing either your professional discussion or written statement (Level 4) could give you more time to enjoy yourself once lockdown lifts. It’s very easy to get demoralised while being cooped-up indoors, but working towards your EPA is a brilliant way of investing in your future, plus rise out of the domestic doldrums.
As it happens, it seems many AAT apprentices are currently working on part 2 of their EPAs right now. “We’re busier than ever,” says Angela Renshaw, programme manager at Manchester-based training providers, Apprentice Academy. “People are seeing this as the perfect time to learn – motivation hasn’t been an issue so far.”
You could be a furloughed apprentice who doesn’t realise it’s still possible to train. Or you could be bored of binge-watching and wondering how to use your spare time more effectively. But knowing that within a matter of weeks, you could potentially have finished half of your EPA and be ready to sit your synoptics once the suspension on physical assessments has been lifted, is an unbeatable feeling. Here’s how to do it.
The EPA: what you can and can’t finish during lockdown
You can work on your EPA providing that a) you’ve been on your apprenticeship programme for longer than one year and one day and b) you’ve already completed your gateway requirements.
If you haven’t finished the gateway requirements:
- Now is a good time to start working on your portfolio (see below), which will give you more time to focus on your other studies once lockdown lifts.
If you are working towards the Professional Accounting/Tax Technician Level 4 Apprenticeship Standard, you can now complete your full End Point Assessment following AAT’s announcement on Wednesday 13th May that we are working towards Remote Invigilation for the Professional Synoptic Assessment (PDSY) in August. You can also finish the professional discussion or your written reflective statement remotely during lockdown.
If you are working towards the Assistant Accountant Level 3 Apprenticeship Standard, you can complete your Professional Discussion remotely however the Advanced Synoptic Assessment (AVSY) is not currently available for Remote Invigilation. Your options are as follows:
If you’ve haven’t finished Part 1 of the EPA (the online assessment/synoptic exams):
- You can finish the professional discussion or your written reflective statement during lockdown, but you will still need to finish part 1 to complete your EPA
If you have already finished Part 1 of the EPA (the online assessment/synoptic exams):
- After sitting either the professional discussion or writing a reflective statement, it means your EPA is done! You could be working on this right now – all before lockdown lifts.
Working towards your EPA on lockdown: the benefits
You’ll get it out of the way
Once lockdown lifts, we’re all going to flock to experience the things we previously took for granted: seeing loved ones, going on holiday, watching sports, enjoying a social life again. One of the last things we’ll want to do is study.
The many hours of downtime we have right now gives apprentices the perfect opportunity to not only finish the reflective element of their EPA, but also prepare for the synoptic assessments (if they haven’t already). As Crystal Haygreen, director of AAT Studies at First Intuition [HYPERLINK: www.firstintuition.co.uk] training providers, says, “You can’t go down the pub or be out with your friends at the moment, so it’s worth putting this extra time to good use.”
It’ll massively boost your skillset
“Use this time wisely,” says Renshaw. “When we return to work, chances are, things will go a bit crazy, because there could be more demand. Get up to speed as much as you can.”
The knowledge you acquire during lockdown won’t just impress bosses; you could also draw upon it in future exams too. “Working on your portfolio will develop your English written skills – a massive help when you encounter the written element of Level 4 exams,” points out Amy Forrest, director of operations, First Intuition.
This level of support might not be available once lockdown lifts
Because these are challenging times, the government has introduced flexibilities to ensure people can still complete apprenticeships and EPAs:
- An increased use of video-conferencing and remote assessments (more on that below)
- The chance to reschedule your EPA if you’re affected by Covid-19 issues.
But remember: completing the EPA is mandatory. Your apprenticeship won’t be awarded without it.
For more information, check the government’s advice here (scroll down to point 33).
Tools and software
What you need: “All you need is access to a computer and a reliable internet connection,” says Haygreen. After that, it’s a matter of downloading a videoconferencing platform, such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts.
The professional discussion will be conducted on SEPA (Smart End Point Assessment) software. Your training provider will send you a login link beforehand.
Can’t get online? “Some people have had technical issues, such as poor connectivity or firewalls on work laptops which means they can’t download Zoom,” says Renshaw. “Ask your training provider – they might be able to provide training over the phone. At the Apprentice Academy, we’ve loaned laptops to students so they can continue learning.”
Prepping for and taking… the professional discussion
The professional discussion happens at Levels 3 and 4. It’s an hour-long discussion with an AAT assessor, where you reflect on your portfolio. For the foreseeable future, this will take place remotely on SEPA smart room software.
Consult the EPA handbook
“I can’t stress enough how important the EPA Handbook is,” says Renshaw. “It contains mandatory questions that assessors will ask, and a marking guide so you can see what you’ll be marked on.”
Download the EPA Handbook here [HYPERLINK: https://www.aat.org.uk/prod/s3fs-public/assets/End-Point-Assessment-specification-Assistant-Accountant-apprenticeship.pdf]
Prepare to enter the ‘smart room’
“All professional discussions take place in a ‘smart room’: a videoconferencing room inside SEPA,” says Renshaw. “It’s just like a Zoom or Skype meeting – once your training provider has scheduled your professional discussion, you’ll receive a link. On the day, make sure you’ve found a quiet room at home. If you’re tempted to read notes from your screen, think again – every video conversation is recorded.”
“Get confident at the technology and conduct mock interviews with your peers,” advises Forrest. “Yes, it’s embarrassing, but it’s a great help. Your training provider could also do mock interviews too.”
“The EPA assessor might ask you to talk about something you’re proud of,” says Renshaw. “When faced with this, learners are often coy; they don’t want to show off. But this is the one hour of your life where you need to be telling us how great you are. Show off your talents!”
Forget to read your portfolio beforehand
“One of the biggest mistakes is students not reviewing their portfolios,” says Haygreen. “If you put something in there six months ago, make sure it’s still relevant.”
Ignore the C-word (corona)
“The ‘challenges’ section is usually the shortest part of the professional discussion”,” says Haygreen. “But having made the transition to a remote workplace, you’ve got plenty to talk about now!”
Writing… the reflective statement
Level 4 apprentices are given the option on either: a) reflecting on their portfolio by either a professional discussion (see above) or b) a written reflective statement.
Reflect upon professional experience gained amid Covid-19
“Reflective statements are often assessed on how you’ve adapted to change and pressure,” says Renshaw. “In the lead-up to Covid-19 lockdown, you might have dealt with many things out of the ordinary. Were you going through year-end accounts at work during the same time as lockdown? Found yourself suddenly working on Microsoft Teams for daily team meetings? Use all of these things in your reflective statement. In the last few months, we’ve all learned much more about ourselves. It’s about getting this down onto paper.”
Opt for a reflective statement if everything has gone wrong
“A reflective statement is a good choice if you’ve been furloughed and haven’t got access to work systems and/or the employer; or your manager has been furloughed and can’t contact you because of conflict of interest,” says Renshaw.
Just write about company achievements – focus on you
“A good reflective statement should focus on the personal experience,” says Haygreen. “Where possible, demonstrate the ‘I’ and ‘my’ (i.e. what <you> personally did) rather than ‘we’. If your team did something, focus on <your> contribution within that team.”
Working on your… portfolio
Level 3 and 4 apprentices are required to upload and submit their portfolio of evidence to SEPA for review. Don’t forget to get this signed by your training provider and employer first. If you haven’t finished your gateway requirements, you can still work on your portfolio too.
Cover your experiences during the crisis
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve all had to adapt and deal with change,” says Haygreen. “Because you’ve been working in different conditions or under changed management, you might have developed new skills, taken on more responsibilities or applied professional scepticism in ways you haven’t before. There’s so much you could add to your portfolio because of this situation.”
Contact your training provider if you lack workplace-based evidence
“The Covid-19 pandemic obviously means you haven’t been in the workplace to build evidence in an office environment,” says Renshaw. “If you’re struggling to secure work-based evidence, arrange a professional discussion with your training provider, which could help you pursue a new direction.”
Be afraid to brag
“One of the biggest mistakes apprentices make is underselling yourself,” says Renshaw. “If you’ve been involved in month-end accounts and calculating budgets during your apprenticeship, don’t focus on the hours you spent processing invoices. Demonstrate something that’s new to you and shows you’ve progressed during your job.”
Renshaw recalls assessing one candidate whose portfolio only focused on payroll: “When he arrived for his professional discussion, I discovered he’d won ‘Apprentice of the Year’ and was the only person in his company preparing year-ends for sole traders – payroll was a small part of what he did. His portfolio wasn’t showcasing his best work – a big mistake.”
Forget to include your CV
“A CV or job description helps the assessor build up a picture of you,” says Renshaw. “They’ve never met you before, so have no idea of what your job is until looking at your portfolio.”
For your apprenticeship
“Training providers are playing a pivotal role at the moment,” says Renshaw. “For example, if an employer and an apprentice have both been furloughed, the employer might not be able to contact the apprentice because working for the company is banned, and they might not get paid. However, we can ensure the apprentice still gets communication from the company.”
For mental health and other concerns…
“Training providers don’t exist purely to push apprentices to the next stage of their qualifications/apprenticeships – we’re also there to support them adapt to this new situation and ways-of-working,” says Haygreen.
The Apprentice Academy has an onsite counsellor that learners can speak to, while First Intuition has a designated safeguarding team.
Says Renshaw, “You could be a learner with a parent who has died of coronavirus. Maybe you’ve got worries about your job once furlough finishes or are locked-down in a house with young children and can’t get much work done. Speak to your tutor/training provider – they should refer you to any help you need, such as counselling.”
“These difficult months have led to welfare issues,” says Forrest. “We’ve trained teams and included welfare info in our newsletters. It’s hugely important that learners get support on welfare issues, because it has a knock-on effect on their ability to progress.”
“Never waste a good crisis” is a quote that’s been bandied about a lot recently. For many AAT apprentices, any lockdown downtime could also, conversely, present a big opportunity: the chance to prepare (and complete) an essential part of your EPA. Not only will this give you more time to enjoy life once lockdown lifts, but it’ll also boost your skillset and employability once things return to normal.
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.