Apprenticeship quango to introduce secret grading of assessment organisations

Apprenticeship end-point assessment organisations are to be graded by quality assurance providers and given a “risk rating” – but the results won’t be published or made available to them.

The move was revealed in the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s new framework published today that “sets the standard” for external quality assurance (EQA).

While the framework, which is mandatory and must be adhered to by all EQA providers, has been mostly welcomed by the likes of the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers for providing greater “consistency and coherence”, questions have been asked as to why EPAO ratings will be kept secret.

It is disappointing the IfA wants to make the risk assessment process less transparent, more secretive

Supporting documents for the framework state that EQA “should, in part, be targeted and focused on the aspects of EPA which pose the greatest risk: we expect ‘riskier’ EPA to be subject to greater scrutiny and more frequent monitoring than lower-risk EPA”.

It adds: “Risk ratings will not be published or made available to EPAOs, but will be stored on the institute’s digital system.”

The risk ratings will be 1 (low), 2 (medium) and 3 (high).

FE Week spoke to one managing director of an end point assessment organisation that is overseen by several different EQA providers.

They claimed to have successfully overturned previous EQA risk assessments and were therefore very concerned that in future these grades would be secret.

“I have no problem being graded, but like our apprentices, surely we should know what grade we’ve been given and for there then to be a process to challenge the grade if we believe it is incorrect?” they said.

“It is disappointing that the IfA wants to make the risk assessment process less transparent, more secretive.”

The risk rating of the EPAO will be determined by various factors, including data on their performance by apprentices and feedback (including complaints) from apprentices, employers and training providers.

Established EPAOs will also be graded on a four-point scale – 1 (outstanding), 2 (good), 3 (requires improvement), and 4 (inadequate) – similar to Ofsted.

Grades 1 to 3 will feed into the calculation of overall risk but any EPAO graded as ‘inadequate’ will “automatically be assumed to be high-risk”.

The decision to not publish or make the risk ratings available comes off the back of the IfATE promising to become more transparent in its processes with its customers.

Mark Dawe, chief execuitve of the AELP, said: “Given the costs involved in the whole EPA/EQA process, employers and providers have a right to know whether they are placing their custom with the right EPAO.

“Many EPAOs have made serious investments in minimising the risk of capacity and consistency issues that could undermine the hard work that an apprentice has done to complete an apprenticeship.

“But for those that haven’t, an ‘inadequate’ outcome should definitely lead to action being taken and if improvements are not evidenced quickly, then the outcome should be published.”

A spokesperson for the IfATE pointed out that the framework says that the institute “can share the outcomes of reviews with relevant bodies and plans to publish reports or elements of them at some point in the future”.

Employer groups who develop each apprenticeship standard select an appropriate EQA provider, to monitor the work of EPAOs.

The new framework sets out five principles that underpin “EQA functions”: relevant, reliable, efficient, positive and learning.

Commenting on its launch, Nikki Christie, the institute’s deputy director for apprenticeship assessment and quality, said: “This new framework will ensure that rigorous standards are maintained with EQA for years to come.

“EPA is one of the key aspects of today’s apprenticeships – as it provides a robust and independent test that an apprentice who completes their apprenticeship can do their job to the high standards required. It is therefore vitally important that quality assurance around EPA is consistent and highly effective.”