IfA appoints small exam board as apprenticeship ‘External Quality Assurance’ delivery partner

A small awarding organisation that appears to have little experience in the apprenticeships market will deliver external quality assurance of end-point-assessment on behalf of the Institute for Apprenticeships next year.

The tender for the EQA contract was finally launched by the institute in May – three months after it was originally supposed to go live.

Open Awards, a relatively small awarding organisation with around 30 staff and a turnover of around £1.5 million, was today unveiled as the winner of the contract, despite not being approved to deliver any EPAs.

The organisation’s highest qualification level on offer is level four and although most of the IfA’s standards are level two to four, there are higher levels where quality assurance of assessment is more challenging.

Despite this, Peter Lauener, the IfA’s chief executive, welcomed the appointment of Open Awards.

“This is an important step forward for the IfA,” he said.

“We have a duty to ensure that apprenticeships equip learners with the right skills and provide the basis for lasting employment. That means putting the right structures in place to ensure that those delivering assessments are accountable and held to the highest standards themselves.”

Mr Lauener added that the IfA puts “employers’ needs and choices at the heart of our work”, and it is “important that they have a choice in how external quality assurance is undertaken”.

The contract will run from August 1, 2017, until March 31, 2018, at a value of £160,000. The IfA will then have an option of extending the contract “for up to a further six months” to cover standards where EPA starts before September 31, 2018.

Heather Akehurst, chief executive of Open Awards, said: “We’re delighted to be working in partnership with the IfA and look forward to helping them hold apprenticeships and assessments to the highest quality.”

According to the specification of the tender, the IfA predicts that across the timeframe of the contract “between 1,500 and 2,500 apprentices will undertake EPA across up to 36 standards which have nominated the Institute to provide EQA”.

Other responsibilities will be guaranteeing “processes and procedures are in place to manage the delivery and marking of assessment and that these are systematic and rigorous” and “individual AAOs are operating effectively and have robust internal quality assurance processes in place”.

In March this year, FE Week reported that the Institute for Apprenticeships was proving the most popular choice for EQA for apprenticeship standards – even though it was only set up as a “last resort” option for the task.

Employer groups must choose from four options for the EQA of the apprenticeship standard they have developed: an employer group, a professional body, Ofqual, or the Institute for Apprenticeships.

An Ofqual spokesperson previously told FE Week that in the new apprenticeship landscape it was “inevitable” for trailblazers to reach “different conclusions regarding their preferred EQA provider”.

However, he defended Ofqual’s credentials, saying: “We start from a base of having renowned assessment expertise, regulatory tools and a tried and tested framework.”

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