IfA close to losing external quality assurer as contract expires at end of the week

The organisation that delivers external quality assurance on behalf of the Institute for Apprenticeships has yet to sign a new contract, FE Week understands – just days before its existing contract runs out.

Open Awards, a small awarding organisation with a turnover of just £1.5 million and around 30 members of staff, was first awarded the contract following an open tender process in 2017.

Its initial contract ran from August 1 until March 31 2018, but this was subsequently extended to September 30.

With that deadline fast approaching, FE Week understands the two parties have yet to reach agreement, with the negotiations said to be tense.

A spokesperson for the IfA told FE Week that it will be “in a position to say something later this week”.

This follows repeated requests for more information over a number of months.

In July an IfA spokesperson told us it expected to set out its plans for its EQA provision “in the coming weeks”, after we asked if it had decided on its EQA provider for 2018/19.

When we asked again in early September, we were told the institute was “not in a position to say anything externally on this as yet”.

A sticking point in the negotiations is likely to be the size of the contract.

Open Awards’ initial contract was valued at £160,000 for eight months.

At the time, the IfA’s share of the EQA market stood at just 19 per cent, but since then it has more than doubled.

According to the latest Education and Skills Funding Agency figures, the IfA is named as the EQA provider on 44 per cent fully-approved standards, or 150 out of 342.

These include the popular level three team leader/ supervisor standard, responsible for more than 12,000 starts in the first nine months of 2017/18, which currently has 22 different organisation listed as being able to deliver to the end point assessment.

EQA is the process that ensures apprenticeship assessments are consistent and reliable, and that they deliver the right outcomes.

The IfA is one of four options from which employer groups can choose to provide this service.

According to the Department for Education’s strategic guidance, published in April 2017, the IfA was originally intended to be chosen “only in instances where alternatives are not viable”.