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An introduction to Ofqual for micro end-point assessment organisations

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

#Governance of End-point Assessment Organisations in the Context of @Ofqual #EPA #EpAOs 

Following discussions with a number of micro End-point assessment organisations (EpAOs) about governance in the context of ofqual, I thought it may be helpful to share the key documents and some of my own personal thoughts and hints and tips.

Background

If you wish to become an EpAO for a standard with Ofqual as the external quality assurance provider, you will need to be approved under the Ofqual conditions of recognition. There are currently 70 apprenticeships with Ofqual named as their external quality assurance provider.

The introduction to the register of end-point assessment organisations states that “We do not assess applications from organisations not permitted to deliver end-point assessment by the assessment plan. For example, where the assessment plan states Ofqual will be the external quality assuror, we will only accept applications from organisations who meet Ofqual’s General Conditions of Recognition”.

This is reiterated in Ofqual’s “Apprenticeship end-point assessments: guide for employers: Ofqual’s approach to external quality assurance” where it states “We require all EPAOs wishing to deliver EPAs for which we are providing external quality assurance to be, or become, an Ofqual recognised Awarding Organisation (AO)”

The Ofqual Conditions

To apply for recognition (which can be done at any time), EpAOs must refer to the ofqual application guidance and the supporting information document . You can find out more about applying to have your qualifications regulated, including Ofqual webinars, here

EpAOs must comply with the “General Conditions of Recognition” known as the Ofqual handbook, there are some general conditions which do not apply to End-point Assessment, as detailed in the Ofqual rules for end-point assessment . They must also comply with the Ofqual EPA qualification level guidance.

The challenge

Progressing towards Ofqual recognition, particularly as a micro EpAO (less than 10 staff), can be a daunting process. One of the biggest challenges that the directors of micro EpAOs I have worked with have faced, is that of the Ofqual application section A6 – the governing body.

The conditions refer to governance, but the application section A6 specifically refers to governing body. This has led them to believe that they can only apply for Ofqual recognition if they set up a separate standalone governing body. As a result they have felt that they are unable to apply because they either do not have a standalone governing body, or because creating a new standalone governing body will be too much of an administrative and financial burden, especially where, for example, they are an EpAO made up of 3-5 core staff with freelance assessors, that only wishes to end-point assess 1, maybe 2, apprenticeships with less than 100 apprentices a year.

It is important to establish at this stage that this is not about ‘regulator dodging’ as I have seen some people refer to it, or about ‘dampening down’ the conditions for micro EpAOs. It is about how a micro EpAO can ensure that they meet the conditions, and be financially viable as an end-point assessment business.

The answer to this challenge may lie in the ofqual definitions. The Ofqual handbook section J defines a governing body as:

  • “Where the awarding organisation is a limited company, the board of directors of the awarding organisation”
  • “Where the awarding organisation is not a limited company, a person or group of people having the equivalent status within the organisational structure of the awarding organisation”

Based on this definition, a micro EpAO would not have to set up a separate standalone governing body, instead they would have to make sure that their existing board of directors, or equivalent, can deliver the appropriate governance as an EpAO (referred to as awarding organisation by ofqual).  

However, I have seen an ofqual rejection letter, rejecting an organisation because it said it could not identify a governing body, so whatever ‘title’ you choose for your Board or equivalent, make sure its role and purpose is clear so that ofqual can see how you govern your EPA business.

So, what is governance?

I believe that governance is essentially about effective leadership. Good and effective leadership (governance) can establish and embed relevant and applicable processes, procedures, controls and behaviours, as well ensuring that the best, most informed, decisions are made, and that the customer and business is protected.

From my perspective, those governing must have a clear purpose, be clear of criminal convictions, court judgements / proceedings, be objective, and be able to scrutinise, challenge, and make decisions.

I therefore believe, that those governing (the governance group) should have, for example:

  • Skills in the sector the organisation wishes to end-point assess
  • Knowledge and understanding of the stakeholders, such as regulators, funders, employers, training providers, apprentices; and suppliers (e.g., legal, IT, accountants)
  • Clear job descriptions, including expected behaviours
  • Clear ownership, roles and responsibilities for the EPA services, such as, resourcing (people, IT and finance), equality and diversity, assessment tool design, assessment delivery, conflict of interest, risk, malpractice, data protection and confidentiality, quality assurance, certification, contingency, and reporting (including to Ofqual)
  • Oversight of the performance of the organisation both financially and operationally
  • Change management and decision-making skills to enable them to review and plan, including succession planning, to protect the end-point assessment service and therefore the apprentices.

When looking at governance, without initially realising it, a micro EpAO may already have, or be working with experts and organisations that can support their directors in the governance of the business.

For example:

  • EpAOs will already have an accountant, so they can play a role in supporting financial matters
  • The EpAO may be a member of their local chamber of commerce, business link or enterprise partnership who can support with business development, planning and leadership and management
  • An EpAO may be working with a recruitment agency who can provide additional expertise on HR related matters
  • An EpAO will more than likely be using an IT service provider for their existing systems, so they can provide advice and expertise on cyber security, data protection and sharing, and contingency
  • An EpAO may well have networks of employers, that they work with as customers, who can provide valuable employer market insights and feedback
  • An EpAO may have been working with a consultant / consultancy on end-point assessment set up, who may be able to continue to support them with compliance and growth
  • An EpAO may be linked to training providers, or training provider networks/organisations who would be able to provide insights and access to the apprenticeship market (this would clearly have to managed closely because of the risk of conflict of interest)

The role of a governing body

I would summarise the board of directors / governing body as having the following overarching roles:

  • Strategic leadership – vision, ethos, direction, decision making, strategy, managing risk
  • Accountability – financial and delivery
  • People – (a) ensuring the members and the organisation has the right skills and experience, (b) ensuring that the organisation has the capacity and that roles and responsibilities are clear; (b) ensuring apprentices are safe; (c) ensuring ethical standards and that all activities meet all statutory requirements around equality and diversity
  • Compliance – with regulators, funding bodies and customer contracts
  • Quality – ongoing monitoring and evaluation (qualitative and quantitative), review, and continuous improvement, including audit, internal and external quality assurance, complaints and appeals.

I hope that my personal thoughts and insights are helpful. Don’t forget that good governance is proven to support business growth.

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

If you want to find out more about governance but on a scale for larger businesses, you may also wish to view the UK Corporate Governance Code (for those listed on the stock exchange).

If you would like to know more about end-point assessment, I have authored a range of articles that you may find helpful:

Jacqui Molkenthin Newsroom Strap

 
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