IfATE backtracks on proposal to keep assessment grades secret - but they still won't be published

The government’s apprenticeships quango has U-turned on plans to grade end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) without sharing the results with them.

However, the information will still be kept a secret from the public, and EPAOs will not be allowed to advertise their ratings unless they’re granted special permission.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IfATE) published a new framework on Wednesday that “sets the standard” for external quality assurance (EQA) and explains how end-point assessment organisations should be monitored to ensure the process is fair and consistent.

A few hours before its publication, the framework was shared with FE Week, including a “manual” that explained how “risk ratings” were to be given for each EPAO.

There are no plans to share this information publicly

It stated that the ratings “will not be published or made available to EPAOs, but will be stored on the institute’s digital system”.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

The proposed secrecy sparked controversy when reported by FE Week. One managing director of an end-point assessment organisation claimed to have successfully overturned previous EQA risk assessments and was therefore very concerned that in future these grades wouldn’t be shared.

Hours after our story went live, the institute got in touch with this newspaper to say the framework was still in draft, and the final version will in fact state that the ratings will be shared with EPAOs.

“The risk-rating grades will only be shared with EPAOs and this is reflected in more recent drafts of the manual,” a spokesperson said.

But, he added, there are “no plans to share this information publicly at this stage”.

The first “working edition” of the framework’s manual, which will “make this clear”, will be published on July 1.

“EPAO understanding of their grades is an important aspect of ensuring quality and lifting it where needed,” the spokesperson added.

He also confirmed that EPAOs will not be allowed to publicise their ratings without the institute’s permission.

The risk ratings 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”.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (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.”

The framework, which is mandatory and must be adhered to by all EQA providers, sets out five principles that underpin “EQA functions”: relevant, reliable, efficient, positive and learning.