Government agency to charge for apprenticeship quality assurance

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is to start charging for its apprenticeship external quality assurance service.

News of the move comes just days after FE Week revealed the “ridiculous variability” in approved external quality assurance charges, which were criticised by sector leaders for ranging from a free service to £179 per apprentice.

The institute launched a tender at the end of January for an organisation to provide quality assurance for apprenticeships assessment on its behalf from April 1 until the end of March 2021.

Open Awards has held the contract to deliver this service since August 2017, which was worth an initial £160,000, but this will end in March.

Tender documents for the new contract, seen by FE Week, state that “legislation allows the institute to charge end point assessment organisations (EPAOs) a fee per apprentice that undertakes an end-point assessment and it is these fees that will pay for the EQA service”.

They add: “The institute’s budget is limited and we are seeking to work with a supplier who will deliver a high-quality service at a price that offers strong value for money.”

The bidding organisation is asked to “confirm what price they would charge per end-point assessment”, and would receive a minimum payment of £20,000 per month for the duration of the contract.

The winning bidder can therefore expect to earn at least half a million pounds over the two-year contract period.

A spokesperson for the institute said EQA is to be delivered on a “cost-recovery basis and not for profit” and this has “been made clear to potential bidders”.

Currently, the institute is the nominated EQA provider for 191, or 55 per cent, of 345 approved standards, and like Ofqual, doesn’t charge EPAOs for the service.

The tender documents suggest the IfATE will now move to a system of invoicing the end-point assessment organisations for EQA and then paying the contractor.

The institute’s tender documents said it anticipates that up to “67,000 (approx. 19,000 in year 1; 47,000 in year 2) apprentices will undertake end-point assessment across standards which have nominated the institute to provide EQA”.

A spokesperson for the institute said: “We have begun the process for procuring a supplier to deliver a high-quality EQA service on behalf of the Institute from April 2019. This will ensure continuity of quality assurance provision for apprentices and employers.”

The ESFA sets a funding band for each apprenticeship standard, which is usually the value given to providers to deliver the training.

Of the total funding, up to 20 per cent is available to fund the end-point assessment. The EQA cost is paid by the end-point assessment organisation and is factored into the EPA price.

There are currently 18 approved external quality assurance bodies that monitor end-point assessment organisations, to ensure the process is “fair, consistent and robust”.

When shown FE Week analysis of costs published by the IfATE, Graham Hasting-Evans, group managing director of NOCN, an end-point assessment organisation, said last week that he was “very concerned” about the high level of EQA charges, which are “up to 10 per cent of the EPA cost in some cases” as well as the “considerable inconsistency”.

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, representing many of the 199 currently approved EPAOs, said: “These practices run the risk of bringing the entire reforms into disrepute.”

The closing dates for bids to the IfATE’s tender is February 26.