Based on her upcoming research, Sallyann Baldry explains how colleges and training providers should be preparing for end-point assessment

End-point assessment is the testing at the end of an apprenticeship that is set, administered, marked and graded by an organisation that wasn’t involved in its delivery, either as training provider or employer.

Each standard has an assessment plan describing what is required for the EPA. The majority of standards have only one approved assessor (known as an EPAO), although there may be more waiting in the wings, as every month sees another handful of organisations join the register and approved EPAOs are increasingly extending their range. Some standards already have good coverage, with management at level three, for example, having nearly 20 EPAOs.

Here are some tips for providers during each of the stages.

Choosing your EPAO

There is no need to stick with the EPAO named when initially registering an apprentice; there may be more to choose from by the time the apprenticeship is completed.

The employer decides which EPAO they want to work with, but the lead training provider contracts with them, on their behalf.

Registration

Providers will need to check that the EPAO is ready to offer the EPA, confirm fees and procedures, and complete registration. Fees are not always online, as they may be quoted on the basis of volume of apprentices or, if using raw materials, based on a variable market price.

Drawing up a contract

Contracts are not standard so each EPAO will have different terms. The Federation of Awarding Bodies has produced advisory guidance including template contracts for its members but many EPAOs will create their own.

Preparing for tests

Providers can expect a 10- to 12-week lead-in time after an apprentice is booked before the first test takes place. They must carefully check eligibility criteria, ID authentication requirements and send copies of certificates, for example in maths and English, well in advance of the test date. The onus is on the EPAO to ensure each apprentice is eligible; if they get it wrong it might invalidate the whole EPA.

Some assessment plans specify a fixed time between different parts of the EPA, so it’s essential to plan well ahead with the apprentice’s employer to ensure work commitments can fit in around the tests. It’s not uncommon for practical skills tests to last six hours; one even runs over 2.5 days. Some EPAOs have set up regional testing hubs, which could be some distance away, so the apprentice may need help with travel arrangements.

Find out if the EPAO has any practice tests or guidance on preparation. EPAOs I spoke to this summer are producing guidance for the apprentice, the provider and the employer. If electronic testing forms part of the assessment, check now that your CBT equipment is compatible, find out if remote tests must be recorded and that your kit is up to the job.

Communication

EPAO websites are in their infancy and some are yet to go live. Some EPAOs have not dealt with colleges and training providers before so may not use familiar terms. However, it is a government stipulation that an EPAO “promotes itself to employers to support informed employer choice”. The apprentice may also receive direct communication from the EPAO, in which case it is important the provider information is consistent.

Knowing what to expect of your EPAO is key. The completion of your apprentices’ studies is in their hands; they will apply for the certificate for the apprentice, assuming they pass the EPA. They are responsible for the internal quality-assurance of the process but they are also subject to external scrutiny from EQA.

In short, EPAOs are working incredibly hard to be ready for the expected gold rush next summer, but providers need to do their homework now to put in place a process that takes account of the complex requirements of end-point assessment.

Sallyann Baldry is apprenticeships consultant at the Federation of Awarding Bodies