Almost 60 per cent of apprenticeship standards cleared so far by the government for learner starts don’t have an approved assessment organisation, a Skills Funding Agency update has today revealed.

The online document showed there are only 63 standards with an approved AO to do the end point assessment.

That’s out of 147 standards that have been granted final approval by the government and are therefore available for learners to start on.

It comes after former leading skills civil servant Dr Sue Pember, said at Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) annual conference in June that it was “morally wrong” to start an apprentice on a course without knowing what the end-point assessment would be.

Dr Susan Pember
Dr Sue Pember

The director of policy at adult learning provider membership body Holex, who was a senior civil servant at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for 12 years – including six focused on FE funding, spoke out against the lack of clarity around end-point assessment.

Dr Pember said: “I think it’s really morally wrong to start an apprentice on a programme when you don’t know how they are going to be tested at the end.

“You wouldn’t start somebody on the equivalent of an A-level without knowing the assessment at the end.”

Stephen Wright, the chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), raised concern over the summer about lack of regulation and slow progress surrounding the register of apprenticeship assessment organisations (tendering process).

He spoke out after FE Week showed in June that only three apprentice assessment organisations had been approved by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which first began accepting submissions to the new register in March, in the previous three months — taking the total at the time up to just 16.

Mark Dawe
Mark Dawe

Mark Dawe, chief executive of AELP, also warned about end point assessments unduly influencing teaching practices.

He said: “The end-point assessment drives behaviour and you will get teaching to the test.”

He added: “The whole thing around end-point assessment, I just think is a nightmare.

“I have heard it in so many corners now that it is a car crash that is going to happen.”

He has now called for the pace of change from old apprenticeships frameworks to new standards to be slowed down, because too many issues including how end point assessment will work remain unresolved.

He said: “The Government has committed to shutting down the frameworks over the next two years while this standards creation and approval process proceeds at pace.

“To avoid potentially disastrous consequences, AELP urges that a shutdown of a framework should only occur when the replacement standard has been properly tested and evaluated.”

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  1. With any end point assessment (EPA) approach there is always the ‘teaching to the test’ risk, however if the EPA is designed, controlled and conducted with sufficient rigor then irrespective of preparation work it will be on how the apprentice passes the test in an independent environment. Driving instructors ‘teach to the test’ with their learners but once the driving test is in motion its simply a question of how they perform on the day and how well their instructor has prepared them for the ‘EPA’. In the end, that 30 minute driving test is assessed by an ‘independent’ examiner who is following a clear specification and set of rules to ensure consistency and validity to their pass or fail judgement. The whole reason the driving test (EPA)is conducted this way is to try and reduce the ‘car crash’ analogies that is referred to. EPAs in apprenticeships also need to be setting the bar high to ensure the result is just as trustworthy and respected by all parties, this will take time but give them a chance.

    • In a driving test the driver at least gets the validity of the real road to drive on and they do the test on the real road. Now, for plumbing tests, colleges cannot replicate the uncertainty of the real world and consequently college assessments are low fidelity and do not support the type of ‘high road’ knowledge transfer needed to solve plumbing problems that occur each day at work. This process of end testing is too simplistic to cater for stochastic arts like plumbing!