How does furloughing apprentices affect their programme of study?

This document provides guidance regarding apprenticeship delivery during current working conditions and restrictions as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Information correct at the time of issue 14/04/2020

An overview of furlough

Furlough is a new form of leave which the UK Government has made available to businesses via its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  Furlough is a form of authorised absence.  If employees (including apprentices) are furloughed, they will remain on payroll and will receive a proportion of their usual salary which the employer can then claim back from the government.  The guidance provides that furlough leave must last for a minimum of 3 weeks.  To be eligible for the scheme, an employee cannot provide services or generate revenue for, or on behalf of the organisation while furloughed.

Can an apprentice continue their apprenticeship programme if they have been furloughed?

In short, yes. The answer to this question is clarified in the latest government guidance regarding employees who have been furloughed.

A furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work, training or end-point assessment, as long as they do not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation. The same rule applies to apprentices.

An apprentice must be paid at least the applicable National Living Wage (NLW)/National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the time spent in training or assessment. If that amount is more than the amount received through the CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), the employer must ‘top-up’ pay to make sure apprentices are paid at least the amount earned for training and assessment.


Wage Rates

Current rates for an apprentice

These rates are for the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage.  The rates change every April.

25 and over 21 to 24 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
Current Rate (from April 2020) £8.72 £8.20 £6.45 £4.55 £4.15

Apprentices are entitled to the apprentice rate if they’re either:

  • aged under 19
  • aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship

Example: An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £4.15

Apprentices are entitled to the national minimum wage for their age if they are both:

  • are aged 19 or over
  • have completed the first year of their apprenticeship

Example: An apprentice aged 22 who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £8.20.


Examples of Apprentice Furlough Pay – Is Top-up Required?

Example without employer top-up

You’ve put an 18-year-old apprentice who is contracted to work 37 hours per week on furlough. They continue to train one day (7.5 hours) per week.

The National Minimum Wage for this apprentice is £4.15 per hour, which they must get for every hour they spend doing off-the-job training. You do not have to pay your apprentice the National Minimum Wage for the hours they are not working or training.

Working out

£4.15 (hourly pay) x 7.5 (hours) = £31.13

£31.13 x 3 (weeks) = £93.38

Over 3 weeks, the apprentice must get at least £93.38.

You receive £368 from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (this is 80% of the apprentice’s current wages over a 3-week furlough period). This is above the National Minimum Wage for the hours they spent doing off-the-job training, so the employer does not need to pay any extra.

Example with employer top-up

You’ve furloughed a 22-year-old who is in the second year of their apprenticeship. They’re contracted to work 37 hours per week, but you’ve agreed with the apprentice and their training provider that they’ll train for 4 days per week (7.5 hours per day). This is to cover as much off-the-job training as possible whilst the apprentice is on furlough.

The National Minimum Wage for this apprentice is £8.20, which they must get for every hour they spend on off-the-job training. You do not have to pay your apprentice the National Minimum Wage for the hours they are not working or training.

Working out

£8.20 (hourly pay) x 7.5 (hours) = £61.50

£61.50 x 4 (days) x 3 (weeks) = £738

Over 3 weeks, this means the apprentice must get at least £738.

You receive £728.16 from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (this is 80% of the apprentice’s current wages over a 3 week furlough period) This is less than the National Minimum Wage for the time the apprentice spent on off-the-job training, so the employer must pay the remaining £9.84.

Government guidance states that employees cannot work during the furlough period.  How can they continue their apprenticeship?

This is true when it comes to work but, as the guidance states, an apprentice is still permitted to continue with their training and end-point assessment.  Furloughing gives the apprentice the opportunity to continue their learning with no distractions. The apprentice can use this time to expand on what they have been taught already, go back and revise on areas they are not certain of and learn new skills that will support their personal development.  They can also complete some or all elements of their EPA as originally planned.

Why should an apprentice continue their learning and assessment during the furlough period?

In entering onto an apprenticeship agreement, apprentices and employers make a joint commitment to complete the programme, and employers invest in the apprentice significantly through funding contributions, time and training.  The circumstances we find ourselves in today are completely unexpected and employers will be doing everything possible to keep the business going and secure its future.

Today’s apprentices will be a key part of the future workforce of many sectors, so supporting them to progress at this extraordinary time will help to retain quality employees and will provide a sense of purpose for the apprentice.

In addition, training providers are re-modelling the content and delivery methods of the 20% off-the-job training element of the apprenticeship.  Furlough is an ideal time for apprentices to complete off-the-job training and any Functional Skills English and maths learning required for their apprenticeship, meaning they will have more time available to be on the shop floor completing on-the-job training when they are back in the business, further improving their productivity and impact on the organisation.

Can an End-point Assessment Organisation, such as PAL, offer any assistance, support and guidance for remote assessments?

As an EPAO, PAL provides a range of resources and support materials, all geared to preparing the apprentice for their EPA. PAL personnel can be contacted at our, or via our free phone number 0800 160 1899, where our team are on hand to answer your questions.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, some flexibilities have been introduced to the end-point assessment process. This means that, for many standards, the entire end-point assessment can be completed remotely.

Tests, portfolios, presentations, interviews, discussions and portfolios and logs can all be completed while the apprentice is at home or work using Zoom technology. If the apprentice can use a laptop, smartphone or tablet, they will find our system very easy to use.  If the apprentice is unsure about using technology, we will provide help and support to make sure they are comfortable with it and can concentrate on achieving the best grade possible.

If the end-point assessment includes a workplace observation or skills challenge, most of the EPA can still be completed.  This means less time will be required to complete the remaining parts of the assessment once the apprentice returns to work.

What is a break in learning?

The ‘break in learning’ rules from the ESFA are largely unchanged.  This rule allows an apprentice to pause their apprenticeship and return to it at a later date, rather than having to permanently leave their programme.

The need to report a break in learning only applies to apprentices that can’t continue their programme for a period of more than four weeks.  A break in learning may be the best course of action if gateway and/or all aspects of an end-point-assessment are delayed due to current Coronavirus measures, and remember the break can be applied at any time during EPA.

Speak to your training provider if you think a break in learning may be appropriate for the apprentice, having explored all other options.

The role of the Training Provider

Training Providers have a vital role to play in supporting apprentices and ensuring they have appropriate learning activities that contribute to the completion of the apprenticeship.  It’s important to ‘check in’ with apprentices to ensure they are making progress and have the support they need.  Regular communication also helps to ensure that apprentices feel supported during this challenging period.

If the apprentice is close to the end of the programme, providers should issue a range of EPA-focussed activities that will support learning and progression.  EPA preparation can provide learning opportunities, as well as preparing the apprentice for assessment.  These may include project and presentation research, fine-tuning portfolio evidence, preparing notes for competency-based interviews or professional discussions, and practising for skills challenges (even at home).  Mock assessments may also constitute formative assessment (assessment for learning).

Training Providers should continue to work closely with their End-point Assessment Organisations to ensure that apprentices are supported all the way through to the end of their journey. Provided there are no risks to the health and wellbeing of the apprentice, End-point Assessment should proceed as planned. Indeed, all stakeholders have a responsibility to support apprentices through to achievement to give them the best opportunity in the future.  Those involved in apprenticeship delivery have an opportunity to safeguard the future employment of apprentices and to help them to achieve the accreditation for which they have worked so hard.

What are the benefits to the employer of an apprentice continuing their apprenticeship during a furlough period?

There are huge benefits to employers in ensuring that apprentices are given the opportunity to study during their period of furlough. Apprentices who have kept up to speed with industry developments will return to work better informed and more engaged.  Apprentices who have had the opportunity to complete or progress their end-point assessment will have made good progress towards the final stage of their apprenticeship, or will have completed their apprenticeship and be certificated.  It also means that the main focus can be on the business when the situation improves, without the need to re-schedule end-point assessment.

For the apprentice, what are the wider benefits of continuing their apprenticeship during a furlough period?

During an extended period of furlough, apprentices may feel isolated from their colleagues and workplace.  Continuing with their apprenticeship can provide a vital sense of community and purpose, and many training providers are offering a range of interactive online learning experiences on a one to one basis or in groups.

Contact with an EPAO, and the focus required to participate in an assessment, can be a useful distractor during these times of isolation and successful outcomes can support well-being and provide a sense of achievement.

What happens if an apprentice cannot complete all of their assessments in the time allowed?

Extensions have been applied to all assessment windows to ensure apprentices have sufficient time to complete assessments.  Assessment windows can be extended by an additional 12 weeks.  If absolutely necessary, a break in learning can be applied during the end-point assessment window.  Any outstanding assessments can be undertaken at later date.

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Further reading