Born out of the Trailblazer apprenticeships initiative, Apprentice Assessment Organisations (AAOs) will deliver the required end-point assessments (EPAs) for apprenticeships, to allow apprentices to demonstrate their competence. My own organisation was the first AAO to be approved for Accountancy Trailblazer apprenticeships and we’re pleased to be able to play a key role in ensuring that the final assessment point for apprentices will be high quality and respected by employers.
Ensuring apprenticeships are of the highest quality is crucial; AAT has long argued that quality and completion rates are at least as important, if not more important, than the government’s three million apprenticeship starts target. Over the past six months the National Audit Office, Ofsted and Public Accounts Committee have all added their voices to concerns around the quality of some apprenticeships, while it was announced recently that a third of apprentices don’t complete their apprenticeships. This is unacceptable, and shows that apprenticeships have not been working as necessary for all those who have been studying them.
Quality isn’t just a word, it means that the apprenticeship must be widely recognised and accepted by employers, deliver real skills that enable the apprentice to do the job they’re supposed to do and lead to long term employment, a good wage and the opportunity to progress.
The creation of independent Apprentice Assessment Organisations should be welcomed, as a way to help with consistency in assessing apprentices, leading to an increase in quality. Because they are delivered by a range of different organisations, apprenticeships can end up being very different experiences for the people who undertake them.
Parity between standards and assessment plans is therefore of crucial importance. We must avoid a situation where one set of standards and assessment requirements is significantly more complex or challenging than others. This is where the external quality assurance applied will become critical. The process must be able to ensure robust and consistent end point assessments.
A lack of consistency in standards hurts students the most; any student who has not gained the right skills or qualifications from their apprenticeship may struggle with transferability when moving to another role. They may also find that their apprenticeship is less recognised. We have heard from employers who have voiced concerns as to why qualifications have not been mandated. The aim must surely be to provide students with an end result which adds real value and is portable across industry and between employers. In this respect, the AAT qualification as part of an apprenticeship programme does exactly this, providing a formally regulated and recognised outcome.
The Government has stated that the creation of the Institute for Apprenticeships will be vital in improving quality, setting quality criteria for the development of future apprenticeship standards (as well as reviewing, approving or rejecting them) and ensuring arrangements are in place to quality assure all end point assessments. The aims of this role are to be commended. However the inclusion of the Institute itself as one of the four possible external quality assurance (EQA) routes does raise a potential conflict of interest in terms of how it will ensure that it takes an independent view of its own EQA activity.
AAOs are not, as yet, available for every standard. Although there is an improving picture, it is crucial that both employers and learners selecting apprenticeships are fully aware of who will be assessing them and how they will be assessed. This is part of ensuring that apprenticeships are a quality and highly respected product.