RCOT 2018 Blog 19  Sess. 57: Degree Level Apprenticeships for occupational therapy – a way forward for our profession?

This session was led by Dr Theresa  Baxter Sheffield Hallam University, Sue Waters Coventry University, Anita Cooper United Lincolnshire Health NHS Trust.

The aim of the seminar was to explore the development of degree apprenticeships in occupational therapy. A new development for the profession, and with the loss of commissioning for health courses (HEE 2016), one which may prove to be an opportunity to secure a workforce for the future.

The seminar began with Anita Cooper greeting the audience with ‘Hello my name is Anita’  she continued to introduce Theresa Baxter from Sheffield Hallam University and Sue Walters from Coventry University. They have all been working with the trailblazer group on developing the occupational therapy degree level apprenticeship.

Anita spoke of the history and the initial driving force behind this innovative opportunity. This included:

  • the loss of commissioning / education bursaries
  • reduction in students applying to universities to take up occupational therapy training programmes
  • concerns for Lincolnshire a large rural county where recruitment has historically been problematic
  • needing to make decisions for the future provision of occupational therapy services in Lincolnshire
  • the apprenticeship levy means all employers over a certain size will pay 1% Apprenticeship Levy. This includes all NHS Trusts. The only way they can benefit from the levy is to employ apprentices which subsequently enables the employer to draw down from those funds.

A link was drawn to Nick Pollard’s comments from his Elizabeth Casson Memorial Lecture of the need grow and promote diversity within profession. Developing the apprenticeship model would essentially enable people who would otherwise not be able to undertake their occupational therapy training to do so.

I can directly empathise with this situation. Employed as an occupational therapy support worker in Lincolnshire NHS mental health services I had the opportunity to undertake my occupational therapy degree as a part-time student with University of Ripon and York St John (known now as the University York St John). For me this was totally life changing.

Post graduation, I continued to work in Lincolnshire NHS.  Currently I am employed as Associate Lecturer with Sheffield Hallam University and now completing my MSc. Over the last 11years I have worked with the Sheffield Hallam University Lincolnshire based in Grantham, Practice Based Learning (PBL) occupational therapy students, (there is also a physiotherapy PBL programme). The programme is coming to an end, due to loss of commissioning / bursaries etc., as noted earlier. Students on the programme have come from a wide range of mostly support worker backgrounds and bring a rich diversity of knowledge skills and experience, which is of great benefit to both occupational therapy and physiotherapy services for Lincolnshire and beyond.

Anita mentioned working with Lincolnshire talent academy. She spoke of having much enthusiasm for such a proposal and the opportunities it could offer the profession. On a humourus note Anita  mentioned naivety, as initially she didn’t realise that this would lead to the national development for the profession and the amount of work this would involve. It is very clear to see her passion and commitment to developing the apprenticeship programme.

Theresa went on to talk about the work of the trail blazer group and how they set about making sense of a very new way of developing a teaching programme that would fit with the requirements the Institute For Apprenticeships (IFA), Health Care Professions Council (HCPC), Royal College Occupational Therapy (RCOT) and College Physiotherapy and also the employers of such apprentices, this included needing to gain the support of numerous stakeholders who would be committed to such a programme. This task is simply awe inspiring, I can only think that Theresa, Sue,  Anita and other members of the trail blazer group must have used every ounce of knowledge, skills, expertise and creative thinking in their combined tool bags to bring this amazing apprenticeship programme together.

A number of challenges have included needing to hold on to the word of occupation within the document. The IFA had insisted it should state activity. Standing firm, the word occupation (core to profession of occupational therapy) was finally accepted and is now an agreed term, part of the outline standards document. No mean feat as this is strictly limited to three A4 sides and 12 point Font. No room for squeezing in extra phrases or words.

Careful on-line consultation with subsequent meticulous analysis of all returning comments gave further amendments to the standards documents.

The Apprenticeship standards documents critically is required to map all the standards of proficiency as stated by HCPC.

The IFA finally accepted the standards document on 23 May 2018. This is very hot off the press news and an amazing achievement in a short time scale.

This degree level apprenticeship for occupational therapy essentially is the same as BSc Hons degree with HCPC accreditation and RCOT. It is 360 credits

The end point assessment EPI is approached differently to meet the specific requirements of IFA. It is the final assessment as it obviously states, with specific modes to ensure it is approved under IFA.  The trail blazer group have needed to discuss and carefully negotiate to make all of this come together.

Small group discussions around the potential benefits and challenges of such an apprenticeship for occupational therapy were encouraged and this was followed by opportunity for questions to be put to Theresa, Anita and Sue.

Some of the topics covered:

  • Apprentices will be earning a wage while they are studying. Therefore this enables people from variety of backgrounds to apply and importantly without the burden of the usual student debt. Getting paid is a big plus.
  • Student experience, it may well be different from other occupational therapy programmes but there are already a range of programmes such as full time BSc Hons, Pre-reg MSc, part-time degree courses, this can be seen as just another route which widens accessibility for occupational therapy training. Variety in training programs means different opportunities and will only strengthen diversity for the profession. This apprenticeship programme will have its own benefits and challenges for students. Those students who wish to choose a course which also enables what may be called the student experience may well choose a full time programme.
  • Loyalty of graduates to their initial employers. This was explored at length and reminded me of similar discussions about the PBL programme The reality agreed is that the PBL graduates, the majority have stayed in Lincolnshire and continue to work in occupational therapy services. It is expected that the apprenticeship graduates will follow a similar path.
  • Student Practice Placements, will there be enough out there for them? A resounding yes!! Plenty of capacity.

This is a fantastic opportunity for the occupational therapy profession, physiotherapy will be also taking this opportunity. It is one brilliant way forward to grow the occupational therapy profession, to promote diversity in our students, new graduates, future experienced occupational therapists and educators.

I reflect now again on my own occupational therapy 4yr part time degree, I was so excited and full of enthusiasm, hungry for my learning opportunity. I think of the people I have worked with over many years and now as Associate Lecturer I can continue to influence the next generation. I think that I have proved my worth along the way and will continue to do so, a good return on the initial investment

All the best for the occupational therapy Apprenticeship Degree Programme !! And finally we owe thanks to the Trail Blazer Team.

This blog has been written by Catherine McNulty find me on Twitter @cathymc9781

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