Using learning technologies to support our degree apprentices

Paul Dyson

An important feature of our Public Management and Leadership Degree Apprenticeship is its blended format – with learning facilitated through a combination of online and face-to-face delivery. This format provides much needed flexibility for both the apprentice and their employer.

The University of Birmingham is well placed to offer a blended learning experience. The University’s high quality teaching was awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework, and INLOGOV has recently pioneered a 100% online Distance Learning Masters of Public Administration. We are therefore able to combine these two areas of expertise into a first class blended learning experience.

Both online and class-based learning is managed through ‘Canvas’; the University of Birmingham’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Each module has its own dedicated Canvas page. Each page includes all of the learning materials for each week of the module, and links to related reading materials. Throughout the programme, module convenors will interact with and support their students through Canvas as a complement to on-campus activities. Moreover, throughout the module a student forum is available for students to ask questions.

Our online content is designed to ensure it is engaging and inspiring in order to enhance the learning experience. For example, discussion boards are a key element of our online teaching and learning. On these boards, module convenors pose questions and topics, and apprentices are asked to respond and react to each other’s views and ideas, drawing on their own work experiences and learning. We also use interactive scenarios, exercises, quizzes, interactive diagrams, videos and case studies to help develop student learning.

We also use a software called Big Blue Button to host live online interactive lectures within modules and to hold academic skills sessions. The playback functionality on these platforms means that live lectures and seminars can be recorded so that those who were not able to join in live do not miss out, and enabling learners to have a programme-long resource.

It is not just in the taught component of the apprenticeship that we use technology to support our learners. All degree apprenticeships are predicated on the need to develop a portfolio that provides evidence of the apprentice’s development journey. This portfolio contains a record of the candidate’s evidence claims against national standards.  During the course of the apprenticeship programme the apprentice is required to keep a record of their evidence claims as they accumulate over time.

Here at the University of Birmingham we use PebblePad to capture evidence claims that can be mapped to the appropriate standards. This versatile software allows the learner to not only record their evidence claims but also reflect upon how these were achieved. Each portfolio has also been designed to encapsulate all the necessary record-keeping that is associated with the apprenticeship programme. This includes maintaining a digital record of progress reviews, commonly referred to as tripartite meetings, as well as providing an authentic time-stamped record of how an agreed allocation of training hours are met.

The PebblePad portfolio is an essential digital companion that supports the apprentice through to their end point assessment. Its contents ultimately showcase work achieved over the duration of the programme together with digital artefacts that demonstrate skills gained and professional behaviours exhibited. These artefacts can include video evidence, audio accounts, presentations and blogs.

Apprentices can also enjoy the benefits of the PebblePad mobile app. This app allows for the spontaneous collection of naturally occurring evidence which can in turn be sync’d back to the desktop application.

Technology plays, and will continue to play, an important role in both the undergraduate and postgraduate apprenticeship experience.

Paul DysonPaul Dyson is an Instructional Designer for the College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham. He works closely with INLOGOV to design and develop online content and PebblePad functionality for the Public Management and Leadership programme.

Want to learn more about our Programme? Contact Kulvinder Buray our Degree Apprenticeships Facilitator: 

An Apprentice’s View…

Robert Ellam

I’ve been doing the Public Management and Leadership apprenticeship course for around six months now, and it’s going well so far (I think).  It’s not easy, but perhaps that’s a good sign!

I’ve been a manager for a little over four years, and a leader for far longer than that (yep, it’s not just managers who are leaders).  I’ve found that moving in and out of a leadership role has suited my natural style well – I’m quite prepared to lead when I see that it’s needed, but equally I’m happy to let people get on with it where leadership isn’t needed, or when there is good enough leadership in place, and I rarely solve people’s problems for them either as a leader or a manager.

When I first joined Suffolk County Council, I was fairly sure that I would have to become a manager at some point – having seen various managers and leaders who I thought did it poorly, I was determined to try to get it right.  While I’m not sure I’ve always managed to get it right (boom boom), I’ve tried to learn from those failures.

Because of this, I started taking careful notice of good and inspirational leaders and managers whose approach I saw something good in, and who I thought I could learn something from. I was probably doing it before joining the council, but that was the first time I’d started doing it consciously.

The opportunity to do the apprenticeship came at an opportune time when I was thinking about the next step in my career, and I was really keen to have the dedicated space it provides to understand why I and others lead as we do, see other ways of leading, and think about what I can improve on in my practice.

Robert EllamRobert Ellam is a Business Intelligence Manager at Suffolk County Council and an apprentice on our Public Management and Leadership Programme.

Want to learn more? Tomorrow, Thursday 7 March at 12 noon, we are hosting a live webinar to outline the programme in more detail. Click here to sign up.

How the off the job requirement of our apprenticeship adds value

Louise Reardon and Stephen Jeffares

One of the key requirements of all degree apprenticeship programmes is that apprentices spend 20 percent of their time ‘off the job’ on activities that contribute to their learning, but which are not part of their routine work. It is understandable that in the context of rising demands and diminished resources, this requirement can be a cause of concern for public sector employers; losing important members of their team, indeed managers of teams, for the equivalent of one day a week over the course of the programme. However, ‘off the job’ does not have to mean not contributing to the job. Indeed, on our Public Management and Leadership Executive Apprenticeship we ensure that all activity is pertinent to practice, so that learning can feed back into the workplace from Day 1 of the programme.

So what does the ‘off the job’ requirement look like in practice? Well, a significant portion of the 20 percent is spent on the formal learning delivered through our blended format of online and face-to-face teaching. The face-to-face teaching on campus amounts to eight days per academic year, while the online elements amount to approximately one day per week per blended module (of which there are four per academic year).

Off the job learning in this regard therefore constitutes a range of activities. For example, the time spent contributing to discussion boards where apprentices debate with their peers about how key concepts apply to their workplace. Time spent engaging with videos illustrating critical case studies or best practice examples. And time spent reading and gathering evidence for assignments.

All the assignments set throughout the programme are geared towards providing the opportunity for apprentices to reflect on how the theories and approaches they are introduced to, apply to their own organisational context and experiences. For example, an assignment might ask apprentices to critically reflect on how an existing ‘wicked problem’ faced by their service could be overcome through applying different modes of governance, or how applying a diagnostic framework can help identify leadership challenges within their organisation.

The work-based dissertation project, undertaken by apprentices in the second year of the programme, also affords the opportunity for apprentices to define their own research question and address a challenge pertinent to their service or authority. So, in spending time off the job on this project, apprentices are effectively undertaking in-house consultancy for their service, or indeed another service in their authority. Providing recommendations for action grounded in evidence and rigorous research, and developed with the support of internationally recognised INLOGOV researchers.

In short, off the job is still relevant to the job. Not only relevant, but adding value.

Want to learn more? Later this week, on Thursday 7 March at 12 noon, we are hosting a live webinar to outline the programme in more detail. Click here to sign up.

Dr Louise Reardon ( is a lecturer in Governance and Public Policy at INLOGOV. Stephen Jeffares ( is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at INLOGOV. Both are co-Directors of the Public Management and Leadership Executive Apprenticeship and MSc.

Introducing our Public Management and Leadership Executive Apprenticeship

Louise Reardon and Stephen Jeffares

As its Apprenticeship week, we thought we would take the opportunity to post throughout the week, on different aspects of INLOGOV’s Degree Apprenticeship programme. Today a brief introduction. Our Executive Apprenticeship in Public Management and Leadership gives public sector employers the opportunity to use their Apprenticeship Levy to grow management and leadership expertise within their organisation. It also gives the employee the chance to learn and apply new skills that will help them to excel in their current role and up the career ladder, while at the same time also gaining a master’s degree.

The programme is underpinned by our sector leading research, with recent projects such as the 21st Century Public Servant, putting us at the forefront of understanding the public sector environment and shaping best practice. Moreover, our Apprenticeship is developed in partnership with the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), ensuring that the Programme’s content meets the demands of public sector employers.

Given INLOGOV’s long history of delivering training to practitioners, we are acutely aware of the multiple demands that part-time learners face, balancing their learning with their busy job roles and personal lives, and the pressures employers face when staff have to be released for study days. That is why we have structured our Apprenticeship using a ‘blended’ format, with teaching delivered through a combination of online and face-to-face delivery.

Apprentices can study online at the time most convenient to them, with all the resources they need available through their laptop, tablet, or phone. This means that our apprentices do not have to spend significant amounts of time away from home or the workplace (only eight days on campus per academic year). The on-campus days give apprentices the chance to learn through task-based exercises, develop a close peer-network of fellow practitioners from across the UK, share best practice, network with guest speakers and the INLOGOV community, and take advantage of our campus amenities, including gym, swimming pool and libraries.

Want to learn more? Later this week, on Thursday 7 March at 12 noon, we are hosting a live webinar to outline the programme in more detail. Click here to sign up.

Dr Louise Reardon ( is a lecturer in Governance and Public Policy at INLOGOV. Stephen Jeffares ( is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at INLOGOV. Both are co-Directors of the Public Management and Leadership Executive Apprenticeship and MSc.

Electoral registers and choropleth maps

Chris Game

In 1967/68, while attempting concurrently, and unsuccessfully, to write a PhD thesis and earn enough to live, I had the good fortune to work as research assistant to the late Anthony King, well-known and respected Professor of Government, writer, broadcaster, and public intellectual. One of the two people who most shaped my so-called career, King wasn’t himself really a ‘psephologist’ – a statistical analyst of elections and voting patterns – but he was seriously interested in such things, including voter registration.

As a Canadian, he was familiar with this being a federal responsibility relying (then) on huge numbers of enumerators canvassing door-to-door, repeatedly if necessary, to produce a national register noted for both its completeness and accuracy – and thereby a complete contrast to the US’ almost entirely decentralised, and politicised, state-run process.

Knowing broadly how the UK resembled the US in not just decentralising electoral administration but in our case to a lower-tier of often quite small councils, King was instinctively sceptical about both UK registers’ completeness and accuracy and about whether indeed these things were even measured. My mission was to find out.

In one sense it was easy.  Two decades before the register-based Community Charge was invented, over three before we had a national Electoral Commission, and over four before the arrival (outside Northern Ireland) of Individual Voter Registration, hardly anyone seemed exercised by either part of the question.

An erstwhile University of Birmingham colleague, Kenneth Newton, provided a pleasing illustration in his 1976 book, Second City Politics.  After cautioning how high reported percentage turnouts can often be a product of low levels of electoral registration, he noted (p.22) the “extraordinarily high proportion of adults on the electoral register in Birmingham” – over 99% in 1951.

Which he then contextualised, recording the council election office’s proud boast of how, while of course endeavouring to contact and encourage voters to return their annual registration forms, its policy was to keep as many names on the register as possible, removing them only when it was certain that they were dead or had moved.

Newton doesn’t say whether he inquired what would happen if the figure reached over 100%, as indeed it can (see below).  But the unmistakeable point is that, even had they been measurable, the statistical accuracy and precision of registers were not in this era anyone’s serious priority.

It’s useful, though, to recognise what, for instance, the apparently impressive estimates of ‘96% completeness’ recorded in the occasional early research studies (see graph) actually meant. They were the percentages of electors found registered at the correct address during the autumn annual canvass the previous year.

Graph 1 chris game

However, by December, when the registers went live, the figures were already down a few percent, and, in an autumn election, towards the end of a register’s life, the proportions of correctly registered electors would have dropped to around 86% – and significantly lower among younger potential voters, in minority ethnic communities, and in inner cities generally.

Then, in 1990, came the Community Charge, followed swiftly by analyses of the 1991 Census suggesting that up to a ‘Missing Million’ people may have absented themselves from the Census returns (Wilks-Heeg, 2012, p.19).  It seemed clear that many disbelieved – with some justification – that their councils’ electoral and community charge registers were as totally insulated as they were being assured (Smith & McLean, 1992, p.6).

By now there was growing interest in registers of all sorts, with evidence suggesting (p.19) that in 1992, with deliberate absentees from electoral registers and/or the Census being disproportionately Labour or Liberal Democrat voters, the outcomes of up to 10 parliamentary contests could have been affected in a General Election the Conservatives won with a Commons majority of 21. But it took the long overdue arrival of the Electoral Commission in 2001 and the 2003 introduction of Individual Elector Registration in Northern Ireland for the extent and composition of non-registration to be researched at all rigorously.

This is not the place for even a summary of that research, but the headline statistics from the Commission’s most recent work are those in the red box on the graph: local government registers assessed as 91% accurate and 84% complete, parliamentary registers as 91% accurate and 85% complete.

Unsurprisingly, but particularly significant in the present political context, highest levels of completeness were for over-65s (96%), lowest for 16/17-year old ‘attainers’ (45%), then 18/19s (65%) – one of the several factors allowed for, of course, in the YouGov polling data underpinning Peter Kellner’s recent pronouncement of January 19th as Brexit ‘Crossover Day’.  This Kellner calculated, was when, if not a single voter in the 2016 Referendum had changed their mind, enough older, mainly Leave voters would have died – at a net rate of about 1,350 a day – and enough mainly Remain voters reached voting age, to wipe out the Leave majority.

Fascinating as this is, this blog’s real purpose is to publicise the estimable and, I’d suggest, important Atlas of Democratic Variation produced not by the Electoral Commission, but, evidently having little else on their hands, by the Cabinet Office. And particularly its 25 choropleth maps – which, in case like me you’ve temporarily forgotten, are thematic maps in which areas are shaded in proportion to the measurement of the statistic displayed – in this case Registration Proportion (RP).

The Atlas’s main purpose, apart from amusing saddos like me, is obviously to inform and support the democratic engagement strategies of Electoral Registration Officers and others. There are cautions aplenty about the maps’ statistical limitations: how RP is a rough indicator, not a quality measure; that a low figure may simply reflect a large ‘ineligible’ population and should certainly not be used to evaluate or start sacking EROs, etc.  But they do convey significant information, as indicated in this small illustration of the range of apparent completeness and presumably practice across our own West Midlands metropolitan area.

graph 2 chris game.jpg

All qualifications accepted, it is hard not to be struck by our just seven metropolitan boroughs, covering not wildly differing socioeconomic areas and populations, managing to span all five of the Atlas’s percentage groupings.

None topped 100% – though it is possible and was achieved, albeit by the highly atypical City of London – but Dudley managed the highest grouping and Coventry the lowest, with Birmingham only just ahead.  A 15% spread over something as democratically vital as voter registration: you can question its statistical significance, but surely not its civic relevance.

chris gameChris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

This blog post was first published by The Chamberlain Files

The views in this blog represent those of the author and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham. 

Carry on Councillor

by Bryony Rudkin

December 26th. What else to do but slump on the sofa and watch a Carry On film? For those not well versed in 1970’s UK cultural history, these are some 30 odd films characterised by innuendo, slapstick and farce and not well known for referencing local government. Until it seems 1973 and Carry On Girls. I sat there, small sherry in hand, entranced to see the inner workings of Fircombe Council portrayed in technicolour, with Councillor Fidler and his plans for a beauty contest robustly argued against by ‘feminist’ Councillor Prodworthy. Suffice to say, the plot descends into chaos and civic dignity is in short supply. 1970’s comedy has enough to make us wince without poor representation of local governance but it did make me think what other role models I grew up with.

I’ve been a councillor for over 20 years but rarely see myself or my colleagues represented realistically on screens small or large or in print. I worked in local government before I was elected. In the early 90’s we avidly watched Alan Bleasdale’s GBH and gathered round the fax machine (no water coolers yet) to discuss dramatic representation of life in and outside a not so fictitious northern town hall. We recognised some of the extreme behaviours of councillors depicted, but not much of the daily slog of casework or policy deliberation. UK soap operas offered a few select examples. According to one internet fan site, in ITV’s Coronation Street , Alderman Alf Roberts served for over 30 years in the borough of Weatherfield and Sally Metcalfe was the directly elected Mayor for a year before resigning in a fraud scandal. She’s currently in prison. Hope Andy Burnham has visited over Christmas.

So not much inspiration thus far. The printed word offers better examples. Winifred Holtby’s South Riding is a wonderful evocation of 1930’s Yorkshire. Her mother, Alice, was the first Alderwoman on East Riding County Council. Sadly this book was published posthumously and Holtby’s work has arguably been eclipsed by that of her good friend Vera Brittain, despite screen adaptations. More recently, J K Rowling set her first work post Harry Potter in a rural community with a dysfunctional parish council. Plus ca change. If it’s local, it can’t work. Radio is no better. A colleague offers the view that “they never get planning right” in Radio 4’s long running drama (sic) The Archers.

So is there any cultural representation of civic life that rings true to someone who knows what it might be like? Peter Flannery’s 1996 epic Our Friends in the North is a magnificent thinly veiled account of local – and national – politics in the north east. The scenes set in the council chamber in the 1960’s were filmed in Islington Town Hall in the early 90’s (I took the call from the production company: “We’re doing a film about corruption in local government. Can we come round?”). But it’s not the shenanigans the big men of the city got up to that strikes a chord. It’s the quiet work of central character, Mary, dancing with the children at a party for striking miners’ families, sitting late at night with the paperwork. Not a Carry On. Just quietly carrying on.

bryony talkingBryony Rudkin is a PhD student at INLOGOV, Deputy Leader of Ipswich Borough Council and Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure. Bryony also works with councils around the country on behalf of the Local Government Association on sector-led improvement, carrying out peer reviews and delivering training and mentoring support.


All views in this blog are those of the author and not INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.