Concerns have been raised over delays with government approval of apprentice assessment organisations (AAOs) for Trailblazer apprenticeship standards after just 13 were cleared.
The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) first began taking on submissions to their new Register of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations (RoAAO) in March last year. But FE Week has found that despite 88 apprenticeship standards being open to new starts — just 23 (26 per cent) have 13 AAOs assigned to them.
And 16 out of those 23 only have one AAO to choose from, raising issues around lack of choice for employers.
The director of assessment policy, research and compliance at City & Guilds, Patrick Craven, told FE Week the RoAAO tendering process had been “longer than we might have anticipated”.
“There are likely to be many more assessment organisations that are still in the pipeline waiting for their applications to be processed by the SFA,” he added.
“It’s also the case that many of the early standards approved are very specialised with small numbers of apprentices expected.
“This means that only an assessment organisation that specialises in that particular occupation is likely to register.
“We expect there will be a lot more registrations from assessment organisations when more high volume apprenticeship standards are approved.”
And not all the 13 approved AAOs are even open for business. BT was approved in September last year for the digital industries standard, but confirmed this week it had no immediate plans to carry out assessments.
Responding to these issues, an SFA spokesperson said: “Any organisation that considers itself suitable to conduct end-point assessment can choose to apply on the register of apprentice assessment organisations.
“The register is open for applications on a continuous basis. We update the register each month so that it contains all organisations who have been successful in their application.”
FE Week reported in August last year that frustration was growing among Trailblazer designers because many standards were still awaiting government approval for delivery almost a year after they were published.
The managing director of awarding organisation NOCN, Graham Hasting-Evans, told FE Week that progress with apprenticeship standards had been so slow “they might never be finished”.
“We are gravely concerned about how bureaucratic this is all becoming and how slow the rate of progress on apprenticeships is,” he said. “To quote the minister it is ‘ball-achingly’ slow.”
Mr Hasting-Evans also noted that it was “extremely difficult” to become an AAO.
He said: “We understand at present that there are a number of apprentices working on apprenticeship standards where there is no AAO and therefore, at present, no chance of actually completing and passing the standard.”
The outgoing chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Stewart Segal added that he expected more organisations to offer assessment services in time.
He also warned that providers “should be aware of the cost of assessment before they take on any new starts”.
Pearson, OCR and Ofqual each declined to comment.