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Considerations for those interested in becoming an end-point assessment organisation

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting
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Back in 2019 I wrote “Interested in becoming an End-point Assessment Organisation? Top Ten things you need to consider“, for organisations interested in becoming end-point assessment organisations (#EpAO). I am still receiving calls and messages off the back of this article, but it is out of date, so I thought it would be beneficial to revisit and refresh it, given the significant changes in the application landscape.

So what has changed since 2019?

The most significant change to the process of becoming an end-point organisation has been the result of the consultation on the external quality assurance (EQA).

The consultation led to the decision to transfer the EQA of end-point assessment to Ofqual, or, for integrated higher and degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS).

For those standards that will be EQA’d by the OfS, the process to apply to the ESFA register of EpAOs currently remains the same, but for standards that will be EQA’d by Ofqual, organisations must be recognised (approved) under Ofqual conditions of recognition before they can be approved on the ESFA register of end-point assessment organisations (a process that already exists for standards that are already EQA’d by Ofqual).

The transition to Ofqual is being carried out in phases, with phase 1 covering standards currently EQA’d by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), and phase 2 covering standards where EQA is currently delivered by other bodies. For those standards in phase 1, the change has already been implemented, but for those in phase 2, the requirement to be recognised by Ofqual prior to approval on the ESFA register has not yet been implemented, but I expect it will be implemented soon.

A less significant, but still important, change has been the ESFA move to prioritise the review of applications for standards where there are currently no EpAOs or low numbers of EpAOs relative to learner numbers.

Another change on the horizon, but with no current timeframe, is a change to the ESFA register application process. For example, there are currently discussions around the potential to combine the Ofqual and ESFA applications, or to amend application processes to avoid any duplication.

Based on these changes to the landscape, here is my updated list of things to consider when deciding whether to apply to become an EpAO:

Top Ten Considerations:

I have assumed that, as an organisation, you will have already decided which apprenticeship(s) you wish to end-point assess, but if not, the full list of standards can be accessed on the ESFA and IfATE websites.

1. Identify the external quality assurance provider

Use the IfATE website to identify the EQA provider for the standard, as this will determine your route to approval as an EpAO (there is small green box on the webpage, enabling you to download the full list of standards, to save you searching one by one on the main web page).

Remember, if the standard is not an integrated degree apprenticeship, and if the EQA provider is Ofqual or the IfATE, it means that you must gain Ofqual recognition before you can be approved on the register of EpAOs.

You will therefore need to contact Ofqual for an initial meeting where they will talk you through what you need to do. Ofqual have a comprehensive set of documents and webinars on the recognition process, and I have produced a range of articles and support videos to help EpAOs.

2. Conflicts of interest

End-point Assessment must be independent, and that independence must be at an organisation and individual level from organisational set-up, through design, and into assessment delivery. You cannot deliver on-programme training and EPA for the same group of apprentices for the same standard (unless an exemption has been agreed or you are delivering both the programme and the EPA as part of an integrated degree apprenticeship).

You must therefore check what conflicts of interest may exist, and whether they would prevent you from becoming and end-point assessment organisation. Remember, not all conflicts prevent you from becoming an EpAO, the key is to understand the rules/conditions, and be able to identify conflicts and understand how to prevent, mitigate and manage them.

More information is available in the ESFA Conditions for EpAOs, and in an article I wrote last year, “Conflicts of Interest in End-point Assessment“.

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3. Understand the market

End-point Assessment is a commercial and competitive environment, so make sure you make use of publicly available data and information to find out about the size of the market, such as the volume of apprentices, and the providers they attend, alongside who your competitors would be via the ‘find end EpAO’ facility (a summary spreadsheet is published each month by the ESFA).

Don’t forget, the ESFA will prioritise the review of applications for apprenticeship standards with no EPAOs or low numbers of EPAOs relative to learner numbers, so this may affect the timeframes to enter the market, depending on which standard you wish to end-point assess.

4. Model your costs

Produce cost estimates for your end-point assessment service, such as:

  1. The initial investment in gaining Ofqual recognition and making an application to the ESFA register
  2. The upfront investment that you will need to design the EPA tools, procedures, processes and policies, and to recruit and train assessors
  3. The cost of assessment delivery, based on the requirements of the apprenticeship assessment plan
  4. IT and system requirements
  5. Quality assurance
  6. Maintenance and review of your service
  7. Work to ensure continued Ofqual recognition and ESFA approval on the register of EpAOs.

I wrote “Cost and Price Modelling for End-point Assessment Organisations, 10 considerations” which may help.

5. Financial viability

Look at the funding band for the apprenticeship and work out potential income (The ESFA Conditions for EpAOs, section 5.2, states that “Eligible costs should not usually exceed 20% of the funding band maximum for the standard”).

Combine this with likely volumes, market share, and your cost model to work out whether entry to the market place is financially viable.

6. Timeframes

You will not be generating income immediately.

Be aware of:

  1. The time it will take to gain Ofqual recognition/approval on the ESFA register of EpAOs (approximately 6-9 months for Ofqual and 2-3 months for ESFA)
  2. The time it will take to be ready to deliver (you do not have to have all your end-point assessment tools and materials designed at application, but you must have them designed, and be ready to delivery within 9-12 months of approval on the ESFA register – section 3 of the Conditions for EpAOs)
  3. The work and time to win business – end-point assessment is a commercial and competitive environment, being approved on the register does not guarantee work and income, employers must select you as their chosen EpAO
  4. The apprenticeship timeframe – if an employer selects you, there may be a substantial period of time between employer selection and apprentices being ready to enter end-point assessment.

7. Economic circumstances

Be aware of the Covid-19 end-point assessment flexibilities, and associated timeframes, that have been approved for a range of standards, as shown on the IfATE website, and be mindful of the impact Covid-19 may have had on apprenticeship numbers and timeframes to reach end-point assessment, as it may impact your cost model and financial forecasts.

I wrote “Remote End-point Assessments During Covid-19: 7 Key Points for End-point Assessment Organisations to Consider“, which may be helpful background information.

8. Occupational Expertise

Your organisation must prove to the ESFA (and Ofqual) that you have current occupational competence in the apprenticeship you are applying to assess. This must cover expertise to design and maintain the end-point assessment tools and materials, as well as access to occupationally competent assessors. Don’t forget that your assessor expertise must be in line with the expertise specified within the assessment plan.

9. Volume of Standards you wish to assess

Are you looking to end-point assess a single apprenticeship, a couple of apprenticeships or several apprenticeships? (don’t forget you must have sector expertise for each standard you wish to end-point assess). If you only ever wish to end-point assess a small number of standards, have you considered collaborating with an existing EpAO? I wrote “Cutting through the fog: EpAO Collaboration” which may be of interest.

10. Company viability

You must have been trading for a minimum of 3 months (and have accounts ready to upload), be registered with the information commission offers, and have the appropriate professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

I hope that the considerations provide some food for thought. To make sure you remain up to speed with the latest information, here are some key websites to read and monitor:

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting 

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