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Clearer quality assurance for apprenticeship assessments

Alex Morris, Head of Apprenticeship Quality Assurance at the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (the Institute), talks about a new framework for assuring the quality of apprenticeship assessments.

We at the Institute know that end-point assessment is of huge importance to apprenticeships.

It amounts to a robust and independent assessment of candidates’ ability to do the job at the end of their apprenticeship. It is a great way of providing confidence to the employer and the apprentice that occupational competency has been achieved.

With this in mind, we must be sure that different end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs), who are responsible for providing end-point assessment, are delivering it consistently and fairly. We need a quality assurance system that ensures an apprentice engineer, for example, is assessed to the same standard whether that apprentice is employed and tested in London, Leeds, Bristol or Birmingham.

This is why we have launched a new External Quality Assurance (EQA) framework.

It sets out what good practice in end-point assessment looks like and what EQA providers will look for to gain assurance that standards have been maintained. Making all this crystal-clear will ensure consistency and drive up quality.

How has assessment changed?

End-point assessment is fundamentally different to previous work-based assessment.

In the old days you would have been assessed gradually on apprenticeships – so different skills that you learned would have been tested as you went along. Now the focus is on a holistic assessment at the end of the apprenticeship.

This change was introduced because employers wanted assurance that an apprentice was competent in their occupation before finishing their apprenticeship.

To put it another way, if your job is baking cakes and your bosses want to know whether you can do this, you shouldn’t just be tested on whether you can measure ingredients and turn on the oven. They need to see if you can actually bake a cake.

Front cover of framework document

Ready and able to deliver

The new framework sets out - for the first time - the approach that will be taken to making sure EPAOs are ready to start delivering assessments. Such ‘readiness checks’ are particularly important because this is a relatively new kind of work-based assessment.

It involves the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) checking EPAOs’ preparations in the initial months after they are accepted onto the Register of EPAOs.

The EQA provider for the apprenticeship in question will also carry out more specific checks to see whether the EPAO is ready to deliver assessment for that particular occupation.

Ongoing monitoring of how assessments are being delivered starts after all this has been done.

Another important point to remember is that employers who develop a new apprenticeship choose which organisation will carry out their EQA. This is a good thing because it gives them confidence they’re using a provider with credibility in their sector.

However, it is vital that all the chosen EQA providers are prepared and able to work to a clear common set of guidelines, as set out in the new framework.

Key areas of focus

So, what will EQA providers be looking for and how they will look for it? The new framework focuses on three key areas.

Firstly, occupational knowledge. Robust EQA will be carried out by people who understand the occupation in question and therefore can tell whether assessment is reliable and relevant.

Secondly, the need for ‘boots on the ground’. EQA can’t just be carried out from a desk. It needs to be done by people who visit the place of work and observe the assessors as they test apprentices.

Thirdly, the need for EQA to be specific to different apprenticeships. This means that EPAOs with a portfolio of several different apprenticeships across multiple sectors must treat each one differently and will receive multiple EQA visits.

We have also aimed to reduce the administrative burden on EPAOs as much as possible.

This will be done by sharing data and organisational information about EPAOs across EQA organisations. It should mean that the organisations delivering assessments won’t have to fill out multiple forms, providing the same information, to different EQA providers.

The Institute is developing a new digital system that allows for this information to be more easily shared, which is currently being rolled out.

Boosting confidence in apprenticeships for generations to come

As explained earlier, end-point assessment is a new style of work-based assessment.

In developing the framework we’ve drawn on best practice from Ofqual, Ofsted, awarding organisations, and other quality assurance and regulatory regimes, but we have also recognised how certain things need to be done differently.

We are confident that the resulting framework will give employers, apprentices and government confidence that end-point assessment is being delivered to a high standard. This will help boost the wider public standing of apprenticeships for many years to come.

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