Apprenticeship quango tender for quality assurance won by incumbent

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has once again awarded its long-term external quality assurance (EQA) contract to Open Awards.

The decision sees a continuation of service from the awarding body who has been delivering quality assurance for apprenticeships assessment on behalf of the institute since 2017.

Its previous long-term contract came to an end in March 2019 but as FE Week reported earlier this month, Open Awards had agreed to extend this work until June while the institute’s “competitive” procurement was finalised.

They demonstrated how they will combine value-for-money with first-rate quality of service

The institute announced today that Open Awards will hold its new EQA contract, which will run until March 2021 and could earn the organisation at least half a million pounds.

“We are delighted to confirm that Open Awards will provide EQA on behalf of the Institute for the next two years,” Nikki Christie, the IfATE’s deputy director for apprenticeships, assessment and quality said.

“They were re-awarded the contract following a competitive tendering process and demonstrated how they will combine value-for-money with first-rate quality of service, delivering against our new EQA framework to ensure high quality end point assessment.”

Heather Akehurst, chief executive of Open Awards, said: “The re-award was a tribute to the hard work undertaken in the last two and a half years by Open Awards staff and importantly the EPAOS with whom we work.”

The IfATE said this new contract will mark a “step-up” in service provision as it requires delivery against a new EQA framework, due to be published by the institute in the coming months.

The institute is the nominated EQA provider for 295 approved standards.

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

But this will change as its new contract comes into play.

Tender documents for the institute’s new contract, seen by FE Week, 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”.

The re-award was a tribute to the hard work undertaken in the last two and a half years

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

Up to 20 per cent of the total funding 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”.

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