From education to employment

Timeline extended for external quality assurance transition

rob nitsch

The timeline has been extended for the transition of the external quality assurance (EQA) for end point assessment organisations (EPAOs) from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (@IFAteched) to Ofqual (@ofqual).

The Institute announced plans to move to a new simplified system for EQA of apprenticeship end point assessment (EPA) last August.

The changes will see EQA delivered by Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS).

This requires transition of over 260 standards from the Institute’s EQA service to Ofqual. All related end point assessment organisations (EPAOs) on the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) register need to secure recognition from Ofqual as part of the process.

The unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 and the third national lockdown have slowed down applications. The Institute and Ofqual have updated the transition timeline in response to this.  Ofqual has also put more comprehensive support arrangements in place.

EPAOs who are overseen through the Institute’s EQA service now have until 1 July to make formal applications for recognition from Ofqual. They will then have until 16 December to complete the recognition process.

Rob Nitsch, chief operating officer for the Institute, said:

“We understand the extraordinary challenges that COVID-19 is placing on EPAOs and have listened to their concerns about timings around EQA transition. That is why we have taken decisive action with our partners at Ofqual to address this and extra support is being provided.

“We want to see as many EPAOs convert as possible, including niche EPAOs that offer so much to the market, and recommend that everyone gives themselves the best chance of success by applying as much in advance of the 1 July deadline as possible.”

The decision to extend was taken following close engagement with the sector and the Institute will work closely with Ofqual to support EPAOs to engage with the process.

Catherine Large, director of vocational qualifications at Ofqual, said:

“We welcome the announcement, which provides EPAOs with more flexibility to submit a recognition application that demonstrates their ability to deliver high quality end-point assessments.

“We are actively engaging with EPAOs and providing guidance on recognition applications, and we have developed a range of additional information, resources and briefings to clarify the process and requirements of applying for recognition. We encourage organisations to submit applications as soon as possible, to ensure the smooth transition of standards to Ofqual.”

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), said:

“As a regulated community, FAB stands four-square behind these reforms. We believe firmly in the role that coherent regulation and continuous quality improvement can play in securing a better programme experience for apprentices and employers. Ensuring EPAOs can all operate on a level regulatory playing field in future, meeting the same high quality bar, is more important to us than trying to complete the process in some arbitrary fashion.

“We support therefore the revised route map and timelines that the Institute and Ofqual have set out for transitioning the apprenticeship standards to the new EQA arrangements. We will also continue to play an active part in supporting those EPAOs who are not yet Ofqual accredited.”

Phil Beach, chief executive of recently-recognised Energy and Utility Skills and convenor of the Association of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations, said:

“This is an extremely positive and timely intervention from the Institute, reflecting a real willingness to engage with EPAOs and address their concerns.  The clarity and certainty that this provides will be warmly welcomed by the sector.”

Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said:

“The extension to the timeline is a sensible decision as is the underlying principle behind the move to having a simplified and strengthened approach to EQA.  There is still significant work to complete this year on the transition with a substantial number of non-Ofqual recognised EPAOs needing to gain Ofqual recognition to be part of the new landscape, many of whom provide EPA in niche and specialist areas. Therefore, it’s vital for apprentices that we all work together to ensure a long-term high quality and vibrant EPA marketplace.”

The outgoing system was designed to provide a wide variety of options for who delivered EQA. In addition to the Institute, these included professional and employer groups, established qualifications and higher education regulators, and the Office for Students (OfS).

Plans will be published later this year on how transitions involving the other EQA organisations will be achieved.

The Institute remains committed to improving the quality of EQA through successfully rolling out the new simplified system.

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