ESFA to stop funding apprentices without an assessment organisation

The government will soon only fund starts on apprenticeship standards that do not have an approved end-point assessment organisation if the provider has an “in principle” commitment from one applying for approval.

The news will be seen as a partial win by campaigners, who have long said it is “morally wrong to start an apprentice on a programme when you don’t know how they are going to be tested at the end”.

It also follows the ‘Quality Strategy’ published by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in March, which said employers should have access to at least one EPAO before apprentices start their programme.

We are prepared to temporarily stop funding new starts onto apprenticeships

In an Education and Skills Funding Agency update today, the agency said: “From 1 October 2019 the ESFA will not fund apprentices to start on a new standard until an EPAO has given an ‘in principle’ commitment to deliver the EPA.

“To support this change, the IfATE will require trailblazers to engage with potential EPAOs earlier in the standard development process.

“These EPAOs will be asked to complete a new form to share information about their intent to apply to the register of end-point assessment organisations to deliver the assessment against the specific apprenticeship standard.

“Until this form is received by the ESFA, or an EPAO has made a successful application to the register (whichever is earliest), no learners will be funded to begin learning on the standard.”

FE Week analysis shows that, as of today, there are 135 standards ready for delivery without an EPAO in place.

The ESFA said the “in principle” organisation will still need to make a successful application to the register of end-point assessment organisations before they will be able to assess apprentices who are on the programme.

It means that the agency can have “greater confidence” that there will be an EPAO on the register for every apprenticeship standard “as quickly as possible and as soon as they will be needed”.

For existing standards, the ESFA said it will “work to get in principle agreements for standards where no EPAO is already in the market for a standard and are working towards full coverage of standards on the RoEPAO”.

If this is not possible, “we are prepared to temporarily stop funding new starts onto apprenticeships on that standard if necessary and appropriate, but will give notice if that is the case”.

Keith Smith, director of apprentices at the ESFA, told the AELP conference this week that, according to a survey, only 52.6 per cent of providers plan to engage with the EPAO of their apprentices at the start of the programme.

“At the moment too much, in terms of the conversations of who is the right EPAO, has been happening too far into the programme,” he said.

“We really need you guys to get that 52 per cent as high as possible.”

The new guidance said the IfATE and ESFA will offer support and guidance to both trailblazers and EPAOs to complete the required forms, and help them get in touch with the right EPAO.

FE Week was first to report the issue of a lack of EPAs 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.

Dr Sue Pember, a former top skills civil servant and now director of adult and community learning group Holex, has repeatedly called for action to address this, and previously stated: “It is diabolical to let an apprentice start a programme, without explaining not only what the end test will contain, but where it will be, what shape it will take and who will be the organisation to oversee and manage the process.”

In February, this newspaper reported that there was “serious concern” among universities that the government had still not found an organisation to assess over 1,000 nursing apprentices who had just six months left on their course.

Despite the findings, the IfATE has repeatedly rejected these concerns, and accused those who raised them as being “inflammatory”.