The end-point assessment (EPA) for the Level 7 Academic Professional Apprenticeship is the final step in a course designed to develop early career academics from their entry point into employment in higher education to full professional competence. To understand more about the course and assessment, we spoke to Dr Leo Watkins, a lecturer in research methods, sports fan behaviour and sports marketing at UCFB Wembley. Dr Watkins undertook his EPA in December 2021 and completed the course with a distinction.
What support did you get from your institution and Advance HE?
I got support in terms of managing teaching workload to enable me to complete the course, particularly around the period leading into the EPA. In addition to that, I was fortunate to have some very good support from Buckinghamshire New University who I did the apprenticeship through, and again this was particularly helpful towards the end of the apprenticeship leading up to the EPA as I was given ample opportunities to have tutorials, and to check I was prepared for the EPA.
In terms of Advance HE, the main mechanism of support were the available resources, particularly the EPA handbook, which I found invaluable.
What did you personally have to invest in the programme to make the learning as effective as possible for you?
First and foremost, not just time to complete the assessments, but time to actually stop and take a more reflective and critical approach to my practice. I hadn't really done it up until that point, certainly not in any great depth. A lot of the investment was about stopping and thinking about why do I do things the way I do them? Is this the right way to do them? Are there other ways that I could be doing things? During the apprenticeship, I started to invest myself and my research practice a lot more in my teaching. I started to collect more data from students. I did a couple of research studies that were based on elements of my teaching practice. That was a really important personal investment in terms of making that application to my teaching within my discipline.
What were the biggest benefits of the apprenticeship: for yourself, your students, and your institution?
One of the key benefits for me, particularly with my background coming into teaching via a PhD, you soon realise that when you take that route, you know you’re teaching on the basis that you have a certain level of knowledge, but you don't necessarily have the same level of understanding of how to use that knowledge and how to effectively teach. So for me, one of the biggest benefits was actually just to start to develop a meaningful understanding of pedagogy, and of teaching and learning, and of how it happens, the different ways it can happen.
I started to realise that the way I might have done things up until that point was quite limited, that you can try and engage students and help them learn. Just opening my mind to different pedagogies, different teaching styles, that was a big learning point for me. Identifying what my dominant teaching style was, but then realising there are benefits and limitations to that way of teaching, that also there are these other ways you can potentially incorporate into your teaching. I’m starting to do that, I'm able to teach with more variety, more diversity in terms of the students, which obviously is key to this whole process.
I'd like to think that I now have a far bigger focus on not just what I'm teaching, but what students are actually learning and more importantly, how they're learning. Previously, I often just focused on the content without necessarily reflecting enough on how that content is going to be understood. Now, I’m thinking a lot more about how students learn, and adapting my teaching accordingly. Because my teaching involves a lot of quite large-scale lectures, I try and think of them now as more of a conversation, a two-way process rather than an exercise where I’m transmitting information. Hopefully that benefits the students as well when they’re in those lecture environments.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in undertaking the apprenticeship?
I definitely recommend the apprenticeship to anyone teaching in higher education, but I think there is an important caveat to that which is getting some reassurances of support to do it. That main support is some management of teaching workload which I know is a major obstacle, so my advice would be if your institution is willing to support you in that way, then 100% do the apprenticeship. As well as the outward facing qualification and Advance HE’s good standing, I found it hugely rewarding as well.
What advice would you give to anyone in preparing for their EPA?
The first thing to say is that it’s important to prepare thoroughly for it, to go into it feeling confident that you have prepared. I was given a good level of tutor support leading up to my EPA, and one of the key things that I was advised to do, which I did do, was to systematically and rigorously go through the EPA handbook to cover each of the expected outcomes from the EPA and to go through them one by one and to draft examples from my practice, so I had them ready at hand. I thought about them and wrote down notes, so I knew I’d be able to talk about what I’d done in relation to any of those assessment outcomes for the EPA. That systematic process was probably the key part of my preparation.
What did you do to achieve your distinction?
First and foremost, I applied myself and dedicated myself to the coursework and there’s certainly an adjustment process from being the teacher to starting to produce coursework because you’re a student again. I understood that this was a Level 7 qualification and in terms of the level of research and the depth of critical thinking, I was very mindful of trying to work to that Level 7 standard, which I think is important to remember.
To do well on the EPA, it needs to have personal meaning; it can't just be something that you feel you're doing to get a qualification to get a certain level of recognition. Starting to really see the meaning in my practice and in particular starting to do a bit of pedagogical research myself, integrating my discipline of research methods, fully investing in the process and seeing the links between my discipline and the wider pedagogical context were all key for me.
End-Point Assessment (EPA) of the Level 7 Academic Professional Apprenticeship
The Level 7 Academic Professional Apprenticeship standard (L7 APA) has been created to develop early career academics from their entry point into employment in higher education to full professional competence, following either a teaching or research specialist route.The apprenticeship standard is aligned to both the UK Professional Standards Framework and the Research Development Framework, and typically lasts between 18 and 24 months. Find out more here.