How should providers assess prior learning in apprenticeships? Advice from DfE

Best-practice approaches to prior learning.

How should providers assess prior learning in apprenticeships? Advice from DfE

The Department for Education (DfE) has released its recent research report into prior learning in apprenticeships. The Department conducted in-depth interviews with 30 levy-paying employers, 25 apprenticeship providers and 25 apprentices to find out the main challenges faced during prior learning assessments and recommend best practice to address these challenges.

The 80-page report's main message is the disparity in prior learning assessments across different providers. Some providers described a light-touch approach, others conducted in-depth skills assessments, while a few provided no prior learning assessment at all.

The report also highlights the main challenges faced by employers, and recommends best-practice approaches to overcome these challenges.


Assessing vocational knowledge, skills and behaviour

Many employers and apprentices said that prior learning assessments were too focused on qualifications, certificates and Functional Skills rather than the application of knowledge, skills and behaviours in the workplace.

It was never really discussed – it wasn’t like a ‘what do you know, what don’t you know’, it was just a ‘what grades have you got?’ and then go.’ – Apprentice

However, some employers said the prior learning assessment was highly effective. In these cases, the provider took a rounded approach that assessed the apprentice’s real-life competency as well as qualifications like Functional Skills.

Cost and time

Most providers reported that prior learning assessments are expensive. They require an up-front investment of time and money in a candidate who then may not go on to enrol in an apprenticeship. Some providers stated that assessments commonly take several hours and multiple visits per candidate, which is a huge financial loss if the candidate is then found to be ineligible for the apprenticeship.

The skills scan takes about four, four and a half hours, and we get around 25-30% of applicants not being eligiable. That’s a lot of investment for us.’ – Provider

Adapting apprenticeship cost and content

Although most providers confirmed that they had made adaptations to account for prior learning, the majority of apprentices and employers were not aware of any adaptations made to their apprenticeship.’ – DfE

This quote from the report highlights a worrying message as providers must negotiate the price of training with the employer to comply with ESFA funding rules. The content and duration of the programme must be tailored according to each learner’s prior learning to comply with Ofsted guidance.

Most providers said that programme adjustments are made at a different time or by a different team than price negotiations, so adaptations aren’t being reflected in the cost.


Specialist assessors

Providers and employers believe that specialist assessors are more likely to understand whether an apprentice has prior learning in the subject area. Specialists are able to ask the right questions, understand the job role and tailor the content of the apprenticeship accordingly.

Correct and consistent approach

Providers should use the same approach to assess prior learning for all learners on each apprenticeship standard. The assessment should focus on competencies and behaviours (not just qualifications and certifications) and be checked by the employer.

A detailed and robust assessment that focuses on knowledge, skills and behaviours, including a skills scan, will produce a more in-depth account of an apprentice’s prior learning.’ – DfE

Effective and efficient skills scans

To reduce the amount of time and money providers invest in a candidate before enrolment, the prior learning assessment needs to be as efficient as possible. Using a remote skills scan will reduce the number of visits that need to made to complete the assessment – increasing efficiency and reducing the time and financial loss if the candidate is unsuccessful.

There is software available that would enable providers to streamline the skills scan processes and reduce the amount of time taken to complete a robust assessment.’ – DfE

Aligning apprenticeship cost and content

Instead of having a separation between prior learning assessments and negotiating costs, the processes should be completed together. Providers can assign a cost of delivery to each module or unit in the standard, so they know exactly how reductions to content impact cost, so they can negotiate a fair price with the employer.


Implementing these recommendations may sound like an upheaval to your processes, but there’s one system you can use to streamline your entire pre-enrolment process – OneFile’s RPL Funding Calculator.

With the RPL Funding Calculator, you can create a robust skills scan that focuses on the knowledge, skills and behaviours in each standard – and account for previous qualifications. Candidates can complete their assessment and upload RPL evidence remotely, reducing the financial implications if they’re not eligible for the programme.

You can also set up a funding calculator to include the delivery cost and duration of each module in the apprenticeship standard. When each candidate completes their skills scan, the programme cost and duration is automatically adjusted according their prior learning.

The entire process is consistent, cost-effective and compliant.

To find out more about the RPL Funding Calculator, download your complete guide to prior learning. It covers best practice in more detail, explains exactly how the RPL Funding Calculator works and how it meets the DfE’s recommendations.

Download guide


This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.