From education to employment

#ResultsDay for the new #EPA Apprenticeship Assessment system

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

1001 End Point Assessments

Three years after the new way of completing an Apprenticeship was launched we are now starting to see significant numbers of Apprentices ‘achieving’ this way.

The latest published figures showed there were c10,000 successful End Point Achievements in the period up to January 2019 but it is estimated that the total number will have reached twice this by now (August 2019).

Interestingly the number of EPA ‘fails’ hasn’t been published – I wonder if it is even recorded?

End Point Certificates issued

Marsh Aug19 Fig1

Source: National Statistics Further education and skills: July 2017

Kaplan’s experience

Kaplan has now helped 1001 Apprentices to complete their new standard Apprenticeship.

To do this we have worked with a number (8) of EPAOs, covering a range of EPAs (11) at academic levels from 2 to 7.

We have had EPA results back for about three quarters of our completers and thus far our results are very positive; 96% of those who have sat EPA have ‘passed’ with 24% gaining a Merit or Distinction.

How has the move to EPA affected the Apprenticeship delivery team?

I spoke to some colleagues and learners to find out more:

Sarah Owen 100x100Sarah Owen, Kaplan’s Head of Apprenticeship Delivery, said:

“At first delivery staff (Assessors/Coaches/Tutors) were nervous about the change as it changes their relationship with the Apprentice. As they are no longer as responsible for formally teaching and assessing learners as they were under ‘Frameworks’. Instead a new third party will be making an independent judgement about ‘their’ learners. Of course they still need to deliver instruction and monitor learner progress – like GCSEs apprenticeships have moved from a ‘coursework’ system to an all or nothing external ‘exam’.

“This is where the role of our Internal Quality Assessors comes in, providing an objective assessment of learner’s portfolios and readiness at Gateway and before they go for EPA. It is also vital that employers are very involved and understand how they can sign off the individual as being competent in role.

“Preparing for EPA cannot start soon enough, but we have found that even if you explain the process thoroughly to learners at the beginning you still need to talk about it again on a regular basis all the way up to Gateway. The EPA must be something that learners feel really familiar with, before they get there”

Marie Clegg 100x100Marie Clegg, Kaplan’s End Point Assessment Co-ordination Manager, said:

“We have also found a difference between the approach of traditional Awarding bodies as EPAOs and those of Professional / examination bodies. The former have been looking at all round competence but the latter are used to focusing on technical skills, we need to prepare Apprentices for both.

“With EPA, there is usually something you can prepare for and submit and something to do ‘on the day’. A year ago most EPAOs were offering ‘Face to face’ on site assessment as an option but many have withdrawn that option and are only offering remote assessment. So, you need to prepare the learner for this, and work through the logistics, we have even had to lend tablets to apprentices so that they can join by Skype as required…

“You need to make sure the EPAO dates are in learners (and their manager’s) calendars and booked out – it is not easy to rearrange them and this has been a challenge – as has the secure transmission of EPA data.

“Each time we do an EPA we learn something and so we are quickly becoming experts!”

thomas burton 100x100I also spoke to Thomas Burton, Director of Apprenticeships NOCN Group who are one of the main EPAO providers who said;

“End Point Assessment has fundamentally changed apprenticeships in my opinion for the better. The individual testing of an apprentice’s competence has raised the standard and quality of the “end product” for employers under the apprenticeship reforms.

“Almost three years since NOCN’s first EPA, we now see providers and employers engaging in a manner which plans for End Point Assessment early in programme design. Developing a relationship with their EPAOs, which is based on a supportive and responsive service from the End Point Assessment Organisation.

“As the EPAO market develops and matures, providers will be faced with a selection dilemma, making procurement decisions based on level of service, turn-around of results and the growing use of assessment technology and importantly value for money.

“The apprentices themselves are seeing the value in the process. Those completing End Point Assessment are fundamentally aware of how hard they have had to both prepare and practice their skills in preparation for the varied elements EPA can include.

“This is reflected in the high level of satisfaction gained by the apprentice, following a robust and independently judgement on their knowledge and competencies”

Celebration is really important

And of course when people achieve their Apprenticeship Certificate we need to make sure that this is marked and celebrated.

The ESFA Certificate itself isn’t that awe inspiring and contains no real detail of what has been studied. So at Kaplan we have been trialling the distribution our own congratulation packs and supporting employers to host graduation events to supplement them.

So is the End Point Assessment process working?

The policy intent was clear, create an Apprenticeship Assessment market:

And to enhance the value of Apprenticeship achievement:

“..It is fundamental to our apprenticeship reforms that employers have the purchasing power and the freedom to choose who delivers their training and end-point assessment services.”

“‘Once the apprentice has successfully passed the (EPA), they are eligible for a completion certificate… The certificate will have recognised status with employers: it will provide employers with a guarantee of the apprentice’s competence and capability and enable transferability for the apprentice across sectors, thereby providing a gateway to longer term prospects”

There are now 234 End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) available, (against 478 Apprenticeship subjects or ‘standards’).

So there is certainly choice but is it a functioning market?

Well we are now past the point of allowing learners to start without an EPAO and although some standards have a lot of EPAOs and some have very few, there is at least a choice in most situations.

But how do you know who to choose?

As required, we offer the Apprentice employers that we work a choice as to which EPAO we use engage for their learners. However thus far just 6 of 500 employers we work with have expressed a preference for one EPAO or another.

This might be because in our sectors (Finance and Financial services) there are relatively few EPAOs and or because there are well-established Professional bodies in these sectors which seem like obvious choices. Or it may be because choosing an EPAO, contracting with them and then managing them isn’t something that employers want to do.

The ESFA Apprenticeship roadmap indicates that at some point in 2020 employers will have to take on responsibility for selecting and paying their EPAOs – we shall see.  

How many parents would like to be responsible for selecting their child’s GCSE examination body?

Tendering for EPAOs might take a large commercial organisation or Public Sector body more than 6 months – depending upon their procurement process – has this time been built into the proposed changes?

In order to make a market work you also need ‘visibility’.

Firstly, of results (by standard if not by EPAO) and also some idea of why people fail EPA. Including the impact that Funcational Skills plays in Apprenticeship success.

Until this is available any choice is made upon reputation, experience, perception or price – not on any relevant facts.

(I leave for others to comment upon the EPA – EQA conundrum.)

If the market is not quite yet optimum, what has been the impact on the value of Apprenticeship?

I have been looking for evidence of this. From a review of job adverts and University websites (searching to see who is recognising Apprenticeships via UCAS points) there does not seem to be any greater ‘recognition of Apprentices’ than there was previously.

It is perhaps too early for this to have happened on a wide scale and I expect that the major impact on employee recognition would be internal anyway. IE a company might now more formally recognise an employee’s apprenticeship achievement, perhaps linking it to higher job roles, salary grades or promotion opportunities.

Only if the current reforms are allowed a decade or so to bed in we will be able to assess the long term impact that End Point Assessments have had…

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

Richard Marsh Newsroom Strap

Related Articles

Promises, Possibilities & Political Futures…

Tristan Arnison discusses the main UK parties’ education policies for the upcoming election. While specifics vary, common themes emerge around curriculum reform, skills training, and…