From education to employment

The Portfolio – Under the bonnet of end-point assessment

Colin Bentwood, Managing Director (and EPA programme manager), Strategic Development Network (SDN)

If you are looking to deliver (or prepare your apprentices) for end-point assessments in future, you will need to get to grips with the assessment methods specified in the new assessment plans.

Some of these assessment methods are new to apprenticeships; others will need to be delivered differently.

(If you’ve missed our earlier posts, here’s our introduction on how end-point assessment is shaping up, and insights into the professional discussion, presentation/showcase, practical assessments, multiple choice tests and the interview.

The Institute for Apprenticeships is also starting to release early guidance on assessment methods too.)

Welcome to Article #6, this week, we’re going to look at (the slightly tricky world of) the Portfolio…

The status of Portfolios within end-point assessment

The status of portfolios in end-point assessment has caused confusion for many.

IfA logo100x100Current Institute for Apprenticeship guidance for employers who are developing assessment plans states that:

…As a general rule anything that is assessed at the end-point must have been completed after the apprentice has passed the gateway review.

Therefore, neither a portfolio of work nor a showcase completed during the apprenticeship can be used as assessment methods by themselves, and so cannot be individually weighted or contribute to the overall grade.

However, they can be included in conjunction with another method of assessment, for example an interview about the portfolio. It is the interview only that will be assessed.

In this scenario, the portfolio or showcase can be collected at any point during the apprenticeship but should not have been formally assessed at that time.

Where you want to do this, it must be included in the EPA plan as a mandatory element of the on- programme phase of the apprenticeship and be detailed as a gateway requirement to ensure that all apprentices complete it.

The guidance is clear – so why the confusion?

It’s largely historical: assessment plans designed in the earlier trailblazer phases pre-date this guidance and so different approaches were taken – until these earlier assessment plans come up for review, those conducting the end-point assessment (and those preparing apprentices for it) will need to work to the published assessment plan.

In general, there are two types of portfolio:

  1. Those compiled as part of the on-programme training (e.g. contributing to a qualification or as a repository of training evidence), and
  2. Those developed specifically for the end-point assessment, during the gateway process.

Some earlier trailblazer employer groups wanted to include an assessment of progress in knowledge and skills development and so some limited portfolio assessment concessions appeared in earlier assessment plans that are still present today.

The policy to specifically exclude portfolios as a discrete assessment method has been reaffirmed in the guidance and assessment plans are increasingly excluding portfolios compiled for on-programme training and only use those that have been compiled in the final weeks of the apprenticeship specifically for use in the end-point assessment.

In the future it is probable that the use of portfolios for assessment will reduce, although at the present time around 47% of assessment plans still include them.

The basics

The portfolio is essentially a repository of evidence. It is a record of activity, progress and achievement of the apprentice (e.g. projects, reflective journals), showing the apprentice has completed their training and the development of their knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Although the portfolio will largely consist of evidence the apprentice has pulled together, it may also include inputs from the trainer and other sources.

Increasingly, assessment plans only include a portfolio that has been completed in the last 12 weeks of the programme specifically for the end-point assessment.

In most cases, the portfolio is intended to help demonstrate higher skills competence.

The evidence is then used as part of other assessment methods (e.g. as part of an interview, professional discussion, or showcase).

In some assessment plans however, the portfolio remains a formal and separate assessment instrument that is a gradable part of the end-point assessment (and that isn’t easy).

In most cases, portfolios are pulled together electronically (e-portfolio), but may also be paper-based.

Advantages of portfolios within end-point assessment

The portfolio depends on the reliability of the individual components. If well organised, laid out progressively and comprehensively completed, it is a useful vehicle to evidence competence, feed into end-point assessments and support grading decisions.

More broadly, it can be useful to cross-reference and triangulate evidence and gives a picture of the apprentice’s investment in their apprenticeship.

For on-programme trainers, the portfolio also provides tangible evidence (in a single location) to help gauge the apprentice’s progress and development of knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Risks of portfolios within end-point assessment

Portfolios can be tricky to assess.

Here are two examples:

  • In most cases, trainers will have had regular input in supporting the apprentice to develop their portfolio. Although much of the portfolio content will be the apprentice’s work, aspects of the content may have been included by the trainer or from other sources. To make an accurate grading decision, end-point assessors will need to be clear on what aspects of the portfolio are authentically the apprentice’s, and which aspects have had input from the trainer. The quality of the trainer can also act as a constraint to achievement
  • Portfolios have the potential to include a huge amount of evidence, in a wide variety of formats. This can also make it difficult to assess, particularly where it hasn’t been indexed or ordered well by the apprentice or trainer

These factors can make it difficult for the EPAO to develop effective grading criteria.

Grading criteria need to be flexible enough (and in some cases more generic) to account for these variances.

What it means in practice…

  • Make sure, as the trainer, that you clarify the purpose of the portfolio with the EPAO upfront, so you know how it will be used, its status within the end-point assessment and the format it should take
  • The trainer will also need to be clear on their role in supporting the apprentice to pull the portfolio and evidence together. For some assessment plans, the apprentice and trainer select the pieces of work to be included within the portfolio – in others, this will fall to the end-point assessor
  • EPAOs and end-point assessors will need to be clear what is authentically the apprentices own work and what is from other sources. Look at how you provide guidance to the trainer, so this is clearly distinguished when the portfolio is submitted
  • Although the end-point assessor needs to focus their assessment on the content of the portfolio rather than the format, good organisation and careful indexing by the apprentice and trainer can make the assessment process much easier
  • Developing grading criteria for portfolios can be tricky and will need to be flexible enough to account for variances in format and style. Assessment specialists, like SDN or others, can work with you to help get this right

Colin Bentwood, Managing Director (and EPA programme manager), Strategic Development Network (SDN)

Places are now also available on our Level 3 Award in Undertaking End-Point Assessment. SDN are also producing a set of recorded presentations covering the main end-point assessment methods and critical areas of practice.

They will be available mid-March. Find out about our courses here:

More updates and practice can be accessed on our new End-Point Assessment LinkedIn Group and through our mailing list – feel free to join!

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