Apprenticeship quango launches Quality Strategy with aspiration that no apprentice starts without an assessment body

Employers should have access to at least one end-point assessment organisation (EPAO) before apprentices start their programme, the body responsible for apprenticeship standards and assessment has said today.

The “best practice” recommendation, made in a new ‘Quality Strategy’ unveiled by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education today, has been made despite there currently being 120 apprenticeship standards ready for delivery without an EPAO in place.

It also comes after the institute repeatedly rejected concerns about apprentices being unable to graduate because they are on standards without an organisation to assess them at the end of their course, and accused those who raised them as being “inflammatory”.

The Quality Strategy was developed by the institute with its partners on the Quality Alliance, which includes the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Ofsted, Ofqual, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and the Office for Students.

It states that before starting an apprenticeship, there should be: “Assurance that employers have access to at least one end-point assessment organisation possessing the relevant experience and access to sufficient, suitably qualified assessors to develop valid, reliable and manageable assessments, drawing on clear, implementable and employer-approved end-point assessment plans.”

When asked to clarify if this statement meant the institute believes providers and employers should not start apprentices on a standard when there is no EPAO in place, the institute declined to comment.

A spokesperson would only say: “The Quality Strategy is a shared ambition. All members of the Quality Alliance will be working together towards achieving this.”

But Mark Dawe, the chief executive of Association of Employment Providers, believes the answer is obvious.

“It is in black and white from in the IfATE’s own quality statement,” he told FE Week.

“There should be an EPAO ready to deliver EPA before any apprentice starts, something AELP has said from day one.”

In April last year Sir Gerry Berragan (pictured), the chief executive of the Institute of Apprentice and Technical Education, was reported to have told an event in London that neither apprentices nor their employers consider it a problem if there is no EPAO in place for a standard they’re on, and that AELP was “being inflammatory in consistently raising the issue”.

Dawe continued: “I am sick and tired of hearing about the IfATE’s ‘ambition’ while they continue to let down employers and apprentices every single day for the last two years with a non-existent quality system, with little change in sight.”

FE Week was first to report the issue of a lack of end-point assessments back in 2016, and has since exposed cases where apprentices had to wait more than a year for someone to test them and others who missed out on a pay rise because there was no EPA ready for them.

And last month, this publication found there was “serious concern” among universities that the government had still not found an organisation to assess over 1,000 apprentices on the level five nursing associate, some of whom had six months left on their course.

Analysis carried out by this newspaper found there are currently 120 standards approved for delivery without an end point assessment organisation assigned. Of these, at least nine have had people start on them.

In relation to the nursing associate standard, a spokesperson for the institute said it was working on finding an EPAO for the apprenticeship.

“The ESFA and the institute have been working very productively with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Department for Health and Social Care, Health Education England and Skills for England to align robust end-point assessment requirements with professional, regulatory requirements for the nursing associate standard,” he explained.

“This work is geared towards ensuring that apprentices have the best assessment experience. We are confident that there will be an EPA organisation in place for all apprentices.”

The institute said its new quality strategy sets out “best practice expectations before, during, and after apprenticeships”.

“The Quality Strategy amounts to a comprehensive commitment to ensuring that apprenticeship training and end point assessments are first rate,” Berragan said.

“This is a major step forward for establishing the highest level of quality we expect from all apprenticeships.”

You can read the Quality Strategy in full here.