Short-term fix found for gap in apprenticeship quality assurance arrangements

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has reached a deal with the organisation that has delivered external quality assurance on its behalf for the past 18 months to extend its work until June while it finalises its procurement for a long-term contract.

Open Awards first won the contract to deliver quality assurance for apprenticeships assessment for the institute in August 2017. Its initial contract, worth £160,000, ran until March 2018, but was then extended for another year.

The institute launched a tender at the end of January 2019 for a new EQA contract, which was expected to commence from May until the end of March 2021.

FE Week previously revealed that the institute was forced into hastily finding “interim” arrangements for April as a result.

The winner of the procurement has still not been finalised. To ensure there are no gaps in provision, Open Awards has agreed to extend its contract with the institute for a further two months.

Heather Akehurst, the chief executive of Open Awards, announced the deal on LinkedIn today.

“Delighted that Open Awards will be continuing to provide external quality assurance for the IfATE apprenticeship standards until the end June 2019,” she said.

“An opportunity to bring in the new EQA framework and digital support.”

Explaining the situation, the institute said: “Open Awards has agreed to carry on providing this service on a temporary basis until the end of June 2019, to ensure a smooth transition before the next contract begins.

“A decision will be announced soon on which provider will be chosen to undertake EQA on our behalf for the next two years, following a competitive tendering process.”

The institute is the nominated EQA provider for 271 approved standards.

Under its old contract with Open Awards, the IfATE, like Ofqual, did not charge end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) for the quality assurance service.

But this will change when its new long-term contract comes into play.

Tender documents for the institute’s new contract state that “legislation allows the institute to charge 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 was asked to “confirm what price they would charge per end-point assessment”, and would receive a minimum payment of £20,000 a 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.

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

FE Week revealed the “ridiculous variability” in EQA charges in February, which were criticised by sector leaders for ranging from a free service to £179 per apprentice.