Adult care employers welcome switch to rail academy for apprenticeship oversight

A rail specialist firm has been chosen as the new external quality assurance provider for care apprenticeships, in a move backed by the standards’ trailblazer group.

Skills for Care announced in August that it had quit the role and would no longer do the EQA of end-point assessment for the level two adult care worker and level three lead adult care worker apprenticeship standards from November.

In an email to end-point assessment organisations yesterday, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s deputy director, Nikki Christie, said she was “pleased to announce” that the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) is going to be taking over this EQA responsibility.

It comes more than a year after NSAR was also chosen as the EQA provider for digital apprenticeships, in a move that was said to “defy all logic“.

This latest decision has again raised eyebrows, with chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers Mark Dawe stating it “makes a mockery of saying the professions should be doing the EQA”.

“Another nail in the care coffin as far as AELP is concerned,” he added.

And chair of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, Paul Eeles, said the decision seemed “strange”, particularly when there would appear to be “more natural” and “appropriate options”, including Ofqual.

But Helen Wilcox, the chief executive of Woodford Homecare and chair of the standards’ trailblazer group, said the NSAR was the “best option”.

“We were absolutely clear that whomever we worked with to EQA our EPA would work closely with the Care Apprenticeship Board CIC, created by the Trailblazer group of employers, to preserve the integrity of our standards and assure occupational competence,” she told FE Week.

“The NSAR methodology and approach did indeed resonate with our occupationally qualified Board who were unanimous in the final decision to work with NSAR as they demonstrated the best understanding of the EPA methodology derived from the needs of the our assessment plans.”

Employer groups developing new apprenticeship standards can choose one of four options for externally quality-assuring final exams.

These are an employer-led approach, a professional body, Ofqual or the IfA itself.

Many in the sector believe that it should all be left to Ofqual, which is the established qualifications regulator.

This isn’t the first time the NSAR has taken on the EQA job for apprenticeships outside of their rail specialism: in May 2018 it took on the EQA for digital standards after the Tech Partnership quit.

Barry Smith, the head of assessment at NSAR, said his firm’s approach to EQA “means we recruit the appropriate expertise to ensure we offer both the relevant occupational insight in adult care, as well as the assessment and quality assurance expertise needed”.

“This approach has served us well in our work in digital and other apprenticeship areas,” he added.

“We are currently discussing staffing with the Care Apprenticeship Board, having just finalised job descriptions and their full participation in the recruitment and selection process.”

The IfATE could not comment due to purdah, the period before a political election.