More than 40 organisations have been removed from the government’s register to deliver final assessments for apprentices, as officials strengthen regulation around the system.
Data released under Freedom of Information laws to Apprenticeship Data Insight – operated by FE Week publisher Lsect Ltd – found 42 end point assessment organisations (EPAOs) that had previously been on the register (and awarded 2,509 apprenticeship certificates between them) were no longer on there because of changes this year.
The new system introduced this year requires EPAOs to gain Ofqual recognition and submit their EPA on Ofqual’s register of regulated qualifications, as well as applying to the EPAO register through the Department for Education’s apprenticeship service.
The DfE then reviews the application submitted to its register and cross-checks that with the qualification on the Ofqual register, before approving its inclusion.
This more robust regulation system was introduced after years of concern over the organisations that were being allowed onto the EPAO register, which FE Week previously revealed had included one-man bands and companies with no trading history.
Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick said EPA had become a “Wild West market”.
According to the DfE, EPAOs had until May 16 to make formal applications to Ofqual for recognition and must complete the recognition process by December 31. Its guidance however did stress that those removed from the register will be welcome to reapply for Ofqual recognition and the register later.
Ten of the 42 EPAOs no longer on the register had not issued a certificate in the last three years, according to the data, with the other 32 having issued a combined 2,509 certificates in the last three years. The United Centre of Excellent Ltd (UCE) issued 339 in the last three years, but twice has been refused entry onto the register.
It remains in the system attempting to iron out the issues raised by Ofqual in its application, but said it had lost customers as a result.
Richard Bates, former chief executive of UCE, said the rejection was around UCE’s role as both a training provider and an EPAO, with Ofqual not satisfied there were no conflicts of interest around the firm assessing its own intake.
It has also faced a 12-week window before it could re-apply.
Bates said: “We have applied and are still waiting in that window. It was the conflicts of interest that was the problem, and we could show quite clearly that we had a system working around that and had no conflicts, but it was just the wording and the clarity.”
Bates said the firm, which assessed standards in improvement technicians, practitioners, professionals and leaders from levels 3 to 6, would have preferred to have seen Ofqual visit and carry out an audit.
“I know why they put Ofqual in to do that, I can appreciate that and we are happy we have got proper governance now, but the only thing is it has taken too long – it should have been done right from the start,” Bates said.
Others, such as the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT), opted not to apply as a commercial decision.
The ATT, which issued 231 certificates in 2019/20 and 20/21 but none in 2021/22, said it did not apply for Ofqual recognition at all given the number of EPAs it was issuing, and was only involved in one standard – level 4 taxation technician.
Rosalind Baxter, institute secretary and director of education at ATT, said: “We always have around 5,000 students per student qualification at any given time, but we never got over 100 per session on the EPA, and sometimes a bit lower than that.
“If you weigh that up against the requirements of going into Ofqual, it’s hard to stack that up resource-wise as we are a charity.” Instead, ATT opted to work with NCFE for the same standard, and was able to ensure existing apprentices could transfer.
Jeremy Hay-Campbell from Manpower Services Ltd, which issued just over 300 certificates in the last three years, said the firm opted to withdraw from delivering EPAs as a commercial decision following a review earlier this year.
According to the data obtained by ADI, City and Guilds issued the most certificates in the last three years (37,000), followed by Innovate Awarding Ltd (25,629) and Chartered Management Institute (22,932).
There are now 285 EPAOs left on the register.