Former Ofqual director planning new FE membership body

A former technical qualifications director at the exams watchdog has signalled intention to establish another end-point assessment organisation (EPAO) membership body.

Phil Beach, who left Ofqual last month to become chief executive of the Energy and Utility Skills Group – which itself is an EPAO, is sounding out interest for a group “run by EPAOs for EPAOs”.

In an email sent to all apprenticeship assessment organisations yesterday, seen by FE Week, Beach says an EPAO-led forum where “we share areas of common interest, best practice or develop a common voice on the issues we face” is the “missing piece” of the EPAO “jigsaw”.

With a working title of the ‘Association of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations (AAAO)’, Beach adds that his “initial aim” would be to establish a no-cost organisation with membership open to all EPAOs. If the group achieves “critical mass” it could “provide us with the opportunity to engage at senior levels across government agencies”.

On the face of it the group would inevitably rival existing membership organisations that are the currently voice of the majority of EPAOs, such as the Federation of Awarding Bodies.

But speaking to FE Week, Beach said it is “absolutely not my intent” to cut across other bodies such as FAB.

“What I want to establish, as part of my understanding and journey in this new role, is the degree to which there is any appetite for a relatively informal gathering of EPAOs as we all face our journey together,” he added.

“It is a really early scoping email to see what the appetite is.”

EPAOs have been established ever since apprenticeship standards were introduced in 2014, which replaced the old-style frameworks and now include an end-point assessment.

An independent organisation must be involved in the end-point assessment of each apprentice so that “all apprentices following the same standard are assessed consistently”, according to rules set by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

There are currently 306 EPAOs, according the ESFA’s regsiter of EPAOs at the time of going to press.

Before joining the Energy and Utility Skills Group – a membership body for the utility workforce – Beach worked for four years as the executive director for vocational and technical qualifications at Ofqual.

The regulator will soon become the external quality assurance body for nearly all EPAOs, requiring all assessment organisations to gain Ofqual “recognition”.

In his capacity at Ofqual, Beach designed, developed and delivered Ofqual’s approach to external quality assurance. 

His email to EPAOs said: “Having worked in Ofqual, and now operating as the chief executive of an EPAO, I think there is a piece of the jigsaw missing.

“I think we lack an EPAO-led forum where we share areas of common interest, best practice or develop a common voice on the issues we face.

“Of course, some membership organisations have apprenticeship working groups as part of their wider offer. And the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofqual will sometimes convene EPAO meetings. But that doesn’t feel the same as a group run by EPAOs for EPAOs.”

Beach has asked EPAOs for an “indication of whether your organisation would be willing to participate” and if he gathers enough interest, he will “pull together a meeting to discuss terms of reference and the like”.

“Ideally, I would like to make early inroads, recognising that Ofqual recognition is just around the corner for some,” he added.