Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, reflects on new guidance provided by her organisation on end-point assessment delivery

There is no getting away from the fact that these are challenging times for everyone. Government guidance on minimising how we interact, to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, is impacting on every aspect of life in this country.

Our priority is protecting the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in apprenticeships and technical education.

At the Institute, we are taking action to support the sector.

Over the past week we have taken soundings from Route Panel employers, trailblazers and other stakeholders about our business plans for the coming months. In response to that feedback we have decided to extend our consultations on funding and on the external quality assurance of apprenticeship assessments by six weeks.

We have also postponed our ongoing route reviews. One of the key aims of these processes is to engage with employers in a meaningful way, and it’s been clear that that’s not going to be possible across the board right now.

The outcomes of our digital route review are now complete, so we will continue to work with Trailblazer Groups here, where we are able.

We published new guidance on end-point assessment on Monday (23 March), alongside the wider government guidance.

We have tried to strike the right balance between recognising that in some organisations apprentices can continue to be trained and assessed remotely, whilst in others there’s little option but to pause training or assessment with a view to re-starting later.

The guidance allows apprentices to take a break in learning or a pause in EPA to cover sickness or caring responsibilities related to Covid-19 of up to 12 weeks.

“The 12-week time limit will be kept under review”

I appreciate that things are moving fast and the sector’s ability to deliver EPA could be further hit. I therefore want to assure you that the 12-week time limit will be kept under review and could be updated if it becomes clear that more time is needed.

Moving onto the assessment itself, where face-to-face engagement is required, we have confirmed that this can be conducted remotely, subject to conditions on invigilation, and that arrangements must be cleared in advance by the EQA provider and the apprentice’s identity verified.

A number of colleagues have asked why we did not adopt the same approach as that taken to GCSE and A levels and award grades on evidence of the apprentice’s achievements to date. Some have even suggested that there is a detrimental lack of parity in treatment of apprentices, so I want to take a moment to address that head on.

The secretary of state, Gavin Williamson, has had to take one of the toughest decisions any education secretary will ever face. The decision to halt this year’s exam series is affecting millions of pupils who’ve been preparing for years for their GCSEs and A levels. He has made the right call, but he’s also been clear that awarding grades on the basis of mocks and teacher assessment is sub-optimal. Around 4m students were due to take GCSEs and more than half a million A levels, all within a fixed window of a few weeks in May and June. He’s had no choice to do otherwise. 

Around 185,000 apprentices completed their apprenticeships last year and assessment is on-demand. Apprenticeships are not the same and therefore the options are different. So it’s right to try to preserve apprentices’ right to their EPA wherever we can. They’ve been training hard towards it, after all.

I would like to close by giving my personal assurance that I and the Institute will do everything in our power to support employers, awarding organisations, training providers and apprentices through this extremely testing time.

If you have questions for the Institute – please send to Enquiries.IFA@education. gov.uk.