End-point assessment is a key aspect of the government’s apprenticeship reforms, providing an independent test that an apprentice has achieved occupational competence at the end of their apprenticeship.
It only succeeds where it is seen to provide a fair, reliable and consistent test of whether different apprentices have reached competence and that includes assessing their knowledge, skill and behaviours in ways, which are relevant to the occupation in the real world. If this is not the case, end point assessment (EPA) will lose credibility and the overall quality of apprenticeships will be compromised.
For that reason, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute) has a responsibility to ensure that evaluations of the quality of end-point assessment are undertaken on all apprenticeship standards. We meet this responsibility through external quality assurance (EQA).
This week we have published our response to the consultation we ran this spring on a proposal to move to a simplified and strengthened model of EQA. In the new model, all EQA would be undertaken by either Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students. Both organisations will work to a framework set by the Institute. In addition, for a very small number of standards where a statutory regulator already has a role regulating access to the profession, we expect that these organisations will provide EQA, rather than Ofqual or the OfS.
The consultation response sets out our plans to transition to this new delivery model of the next two years. We will work closely with existing EQA providers and end-point assessment organisations to ensure that this transition is managed as smoothly as possible. The existing EQA regime will remain in place for each individual standard until it transitions to Ofqual’s remit.
I am grateful to all those who took the time to respond to the consultation, particularly at what has clearly been a challenging time for every organisation, with many competing priorities. The views expressed in the consultation were diverse, but the majority of respondents saw clear benefit in the proposed approach and we will therefore be proceeding with it.
This represents a significant development of the existing system of EQA, where the service is provided by a range of employer-led and professional bodies, as well as Ofqual and the Institute itself.
The current system has been effective in monitoring the quality of end-point assessment delivery. Many EQA providers have built strong and productive relationships with the end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) in their sectors, combining both occupational expertise and links to employers, with understanding of assessment. This has been particularly important in recent months as we have dealt with the unprecedented challenges facing the end-point assessment system as a result of COVID-19. EQA providers have played a crucial role in our response, sign-off on flexibilities and participating in taskforces to agree more significant changes to assessment. I know, and it is further reiterated by the responses to the consultation, that this role has been welcomed across the end-point assessment sector.
I am grateful for the work that existing EQA providers have undertaken in the current system and for their continuing support over the next few years to provide a robust EQA service and supporting an orderly transition.
However, the current system is not as simple to understand or engage with as it could be. Nor is it as strong as it might be given that few of the current EQA providers possess the regulatory levers to enforce changes. This has meant that even where poor practice has been identified we have relied on the goodwill of end-point assessment organisations to ensure improvements are made. Finally, the current way of funding for the EQA system is inefficient, which has meant that EQA providers have had to charge end-point assessment organisations directly in order to cover their costs.
The proposal we are now taking forward strengthens the system by addressing those shortcomings: as EQA will be delivered by two organisations, both with established regulatory powers and both funded directly by government. The current EQA providers will work alongside Ofqual to ensure a well-managed and orderly transition.
Responses to the consultation highlighted, more than anything else, how crucial it is to make sure that the employer voice is still heard in EQA work. Respondents were concerned that without the employer voice EPA and apprenticeships will lose credibility and the link through to industry best practice.
In fact, I believe that the new system has the potential to strengthen the use of the employer voice in EQA. We will be creating a new directory of employer organisations on which Ofqual and the OfS will be able to draw occupational expertise which will supplement the assessment expertise of the education regulators, enhancing EQA. In the current system around 30% of apprenticeship standards have an employer-led approach to EQA. The use of the employer directory allows us to involve a greater number of employer bodies across a greater number of standards. It also allows us to use them more strategically so that they can add more value.
By focusing more specifically on whether the EPA is providing relevant assessment of the occupation and whether it works in industry, I hope that we will be using employer organisations and professional bodies both more effectively and more efficiently.