Ofqual survey into perceptions of vocational qualifications: 7 key findings

New research by Ofqual has revealed worryingly low levels of understanding among employers of key elements the government’s apprenticeship reforms .

Its survey looked at perceptions of vocational and technical qualifications among 3,000 employers, learners and training providers.

It will allow the exams regulator to “measure changes in levels of understanding and perceived value over time” amid ongoing reforms, according to Phil Beach, Ofqual’s executive director for vocational and technical qualifications.

One of the topics under scrutiny was end-point assessment of apprenticeships. So what did training providers, employers and learners think of them? Here are seven points we learned.


  1. Just 20 per cent of employers know the difference between standards and frameworks

Replacing old-style apprenticeship frameworks with higher-quality, employer designed standards is central to the government’s reforms. Unfortunately, most employers didn’t know the difference.

Just 20 per cent of the 1,253 employers surveyed said they understood the difference between the two. This rose to 45 per cent of large employers, but fell to just 11 per cent among micro-businesses.

In comparison, nearly 70 per cent of the 526 training providers surveyed said they understood the difference.


  1. Less than 20 per cent of employers fully understand EPA

Just 18 per cent of employers said they had a “very or quite good” understanding of end point assessments.

Again, this rose with organisation size – 40 per cent of large employers reported high levels of understanding, compared with 13 per cent of micro-businesses.

Being part of one of the employer groups that developed an apprenticeship standard also increased understanding, with almost two-thirds of employers that had been part of a Trailblazer group reporting a higher understanding of the apprenticeship final exams.

But, the survey noted, “as very few EPAs had taken place at the time of the fieldwork, it is unlikely that many respondents would have had exposure to them prior to completing it”.


  1. Training providers value EPA less than employers and learners do

Fourteen per cent of training providers surveyed disagreed with the statement “we value end-point assessments”, while just a third agreed with it.

In comparison, just five per cent of employers and three per cent of learners said the same.

Nearly 70 per cent of learners agreed with the statement, as did just over 50 per cent of employers.


  1. Two-thirds of employers believe people who’ve passed EPA have the skills they need

Around two-thirds of employers agreed with the statement that “people passing end-point assessments have the vocational and technical skills needed by my organisation”.

Among large organisations this rose to 70 per cent, while just 59 per cent of micro-businesses agreed.

A small proportion, around five per cent, disagreed with the statement.

These findings should give the government cause for concern, given that apprenticeship standards were designed to meet employers’ needs.


  1. Training providers are less confident than employers that EPA measures the skill employers need

Almost a fifth of training providers disagreed with the statement “I am confident that end-point assessments measure the skills and knowledge that employers want them to”.

This rose to 27 per cent among providers with fewer than 100 learners.

In contrast, just two per cent of employers disagreed with the statement.


  1. Employers don’t know how to change assessments that don’t meet their needs

All employers who said they weren’t confident that end-point assessments measured the skills and knowledge they needed were asked if they knew how they could get the assessment changed.

Just three people said yes, but were “unable to articulate how they would go about this”.


  1. Learners understand EPA more than training providers think they do

Almost a fifth of training providers disagreed with the statement “learners understand the purpose of end-point assessments”, while just 25 per cent agreed.

But in reality just five per cent of learners disagreed with the statement, while 70 per cent agreed.

This rose to 77 per cent among learners with experience of the workplace.


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