Tendering for external quality assurance finally launched

Tendering for the external quality assurance of apprenticeships has finally been launched by the Institute for Apprenticeships – three months after it was originally supposed to go live.

The opportunity to apply to deliver EQA services on behalf of the IfA was posted on the contracts finder website last night, with a closing date of 2pm on June 20.

The contract will run from August 1, 2017, until March 31, 2018, at a value of £160,000.

This ends the significant delay to starting the procurement process, which the IfA had scheduled for February this year, in a draft operational plan published in January.

The long-awaited advert promises a pre-tender briefing session for the week commencing June 5, in London, with a shortlist for the job finalised by June 28.

Shortlisted applicants will then meet with representatives from the Institute on July 4, and the final contract will be awards on July 14.

The contract will cover EQA for any apprenticeship standards where the IfA is the named EQA provider and the end-point assessment starts before March 31, 2018.

The Institute will also have an option of extending the contract “for up to a further six months” to cover standards where EPA starts before September 31, 2018.

According to the specification, 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”.

The successful applicant must “provide monthly progress reports to the Institute highlighting progress the agreed project plan, any risks and issues identified”, as well as delivering a “comprehensive EQA service”.

This will include ensuring “standards and assessment plans are fit for purpose and delivering high quality outcomes”, “apprenticeship assessment organisations are interpreting assessment plans effectively and consistently across the standard”, and assessment instruments are “fit-for-purpose”.

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.”

Speaking during a webinar on January 6, Peter Lauener, the shadow chief executive of the IfA, told FE Week’s editor Nick Linford that the IfA did not have “the resource to do the quality assurance role directly”.

He also insisted it would be acceptable for the Institute to charge for EQA because “the principle of a regulator charging bodies in the industry for regulation is not uncommon at all”.

In contrast, an Ofqual spokesperson told FE Week: “We don’t charge and do not intend to introduce charges for our external quality assurance role.”

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