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How Open University Practice Tutors support work-based learning in apprenticeships

Nick Boston with apprentice

Nick Boston is a Practice Tutor at The Open University supporting apprentices in the South of England on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. In his blog, Nick talks about what the role entails and how he is able to work with both the employer and the apprentice to ensure successful completion of work-based learning and support the programme as a whole.

My role as Practice Tutor is to support apprentices through the whole of their programme. This means that I meet with them regularly in their workplace, and I also meet with their line manager to check everything is going well with the programme. I also give them specific support through tutoring them on the work-based modules within the degree apprenticeship.

Two types of learning

As part of the degree apprenticeship programme, apprentices study on two different types of modules. They study on academic-based modules and they study on practice-based modules. In their academic-based modules they are studying in perhaps a more traditional academic way. They're learning concepts and theories and they're applying them, generally speaking, to case study materials or real business situations. Apprentices have an academic tutor who supports them, marks their assignments and gives them the support they need whilst they're studying those modules.

Alongside that they study on what we call work-based modules. Those are the modules that I, as a Practice Tutor, support the apprenticeships on. In those modules they are applying material they've learnt but much more towards to their real work situations. They're reflecting on their own management practice, based on the theories and concepts that they're learning but applying that to real life situations in their workplace.

How I support apprentices and the employer

At the beginning of the programme I meet with the apprentices and we talk about what they are going to experience on the programme and we set up an individual learning plan. We talk about what they are hoping to get from the apprenticeship and how that is going to be achieved. We set some targets for how we can make that happen in the workplace. I also meet with the apprentice’s line manager to talk about the kind of support that the organisation would need to be providing so that the apprenticeship will be successful for both the apprentice the organisation.

I supervise a small group of apprentices in my area of the country and meet with them at their workplace on a regular basis. We review progress, see how things are going and how they’re getting on with the programme so far. At that point I also meet with the line manager, just to check if there are any issues for the organisation. These discussions help me to support apprentices and the organisation in identifying opportunities for them to access perhaps different aspects of the organisation's business or to be able to speak to different people within the organisation. The Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship programme is structured in a way that encourages the apprentices, and requires apprentices in fact, to explore all different aspects of management. Therefore, it's important the organisation is able to provide those opportunities. This regular contact helps us to identify those opportunities. 

Practice Tutor and apprentice

Nick talking with apprentice, Georgia

In addition to those regular face-to-face meetings that we have, I speak with apprentices regularly on the telephone in particular in the work-based modules. We’ll often have a telephone conversation to talk about some of the evidence that they’ve been gathering and I can give feedback on that. But I'm also always available for us to speak on the phone or by email in between times if there's any specific queries that come up or anything that the apprentice wants to check out.

Work-based learning modules

The Practice Tutor is different from the Academic Tutor role in the sense that we don’t provide tutorials in the same way. On an academic module, students and apprentices will receive online or face-to-face tutorials, often in group settings. With the practice-based modules, the tuition is much more individually tailored.

In the work-based learning modules my role is to support apprentices and take them through the structured programme of activities. The purpose of those activities is for them to reflect on their own work-based practice. My role is to help them reflect on that practice but also to help them identify areas that they might want to look at within their work practice. 

On those modules, the apprentices produce evidence based on their reflections on an aspect of their work or an aspect of the organisation. They collect that evidence and my role is to look at that evidence and give them feedback on ways in which they might want to expand on particular areas, or ways in which they could add depth to their evidence. I’m helping them to build up a portfolio of evidence that shows that they've looked at all these different areas of their management practice and used the materials that they've studied to analyse or make changes in their practice.

Managing the 20% off-the-job requirement

The 20% off-the-job requirement is where the employer needs to make sure that any apprentice has 20% of their working time to focus on their studies on the apprenticeship. That means dedicated time where they're not doing the rest of their job. It's also important the organisations don’t ask them to cram a five-day-a-week job into those remaining four days. The organisation will have to make some choices about how to manage that so that the apprentice isn’t doing all their studies on top of their full-time job.

Additional support from The Open University

An Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager is also on hand to support the employer sponsoring the apprenticeship. They are there to support the organisation to be able to provide the 20% off-the-job time and overcome any other barriers that they might have with how the programme is being administered.

In addition to the Academic Tutor, the Practice Tutor and the Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager, apprentices can access a whole range of support from The Open University. There's a student support team which has a dedicated apprenticeship advice line and that's really helpful for apprentices if they've got any kind of questions or need for extra support beyond what their tutors can provide. The OU also has particular expertise and advice around disability and accessibility issues in case any apprentices need support and apprentices also have access to online library materials and a whole host of other resources.

Find out how Nick is playing a key role in supporting an apprentice at Youthforce