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The Federation of Awarding Bodies opens its two day conference in Leicester today (19 Oct) to 370 delegates, with End Point Assessments undoubtedly taking centre stage in the keynote speeches, fringes and seminars. Here, Sallyann Baldry talks through her research for the Federation.

A research report to be published at the end of the month has found that one of the keys to success of new trailblazer apprenticeships hinges on explicitly defining and communicating what constitutes the ‘gateway’ point. The Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) has undertaken extensive research into End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAO’s) over the last two months. It has revealed the complexity of the new apprenticeship landscape, with the gateway being especially challenging.

The ‘gateway’ is the point at which the employer and training provider is satisfied that an apprentice has fully met the requirements specified in the apprenticeship Standard.

End Point Assessment Organisations, also known as Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations, are wrestling with issues around gateways. Although the training provider must state their chosen EPAO at the point they register the apprentice, the EPAO may not know who is due to present for assessment until the apprentices’ employer contacts them to book an end point assessment (EPA). This could be as much as five years later. The EPAO must be listed on the Register of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations for the relevant Standard. The register currently lists around 90 organisations - selecting the right one may be burdensome for the employer.

Forecasting demand, scheduling test occasions and allocating resources; from booking a test facility to checking the availability of independent assessors are just a few of the factors the EPAO needs to consider within their planning cycle. These tasks may be compressed into a tight timeframe. It is likely to be built into service level agreements, signed under a contract between the EPAO and the employer. There is commonly a 10 to 12-week lead in time. FAB considers this a very reasonable timeframe given the complexity of the task ahead. Employers expecting on-demand EPA, hoping to re-coup their levy payments expediently, may be disappointed.

Once the request is made, the EPAO confirms that the apprentice is eligible to go forward for end point assessment, this might include scanning certificates to prove they have met any maths and English requirement or simply checking the Unique Learner Number. Eligibility checks are time-consuming and this all needs to be done before they are technically “booked-in”. This process needs to be auditable and may demand a considerable amount of chasing. EPAO’s are spending time making sure they build this into their costs and their processes. Getting this wrong could invalidate an assessment; and that opens up a whole new can of worms.

Some EPAO’s are in a more fortunate position, where a qualification is included in the Standard and the EPAO is also a professional body or an awarding organisation they may have a better idea of numbers of incoming apprentices and when they will be ready for assessment. Nonetheless, there is bespoke documentation to be created to facilitate this process and this might be contractual.

Communications are another fraught area. The EPAO needs to communicate with the apprentice, give them joining instructions and provide particulars of each component of the assessment. Some Assessment Plans specify a substantial gap between each assessment component so will require different guidance for each test occasion. It is often the first time an apprentice is “exposed” to direct communication with the EPAO. Their employer and training provider must be singing from the same hymn sheet to avoid any dissonance.

EPAO’s are designing guidance on Gateway for multiple audiences; apprentice, employer, training provider and the independent assessor. There are added complexities; just how much advice and guidance can they give? After all, it is meant to be independent and clearly separated from the delivered element of the training. The concept of the “mock” has yet to be fully articulated.

EPAO’s are challenged by the marketing that will be required to promote their services to employers, with the added issue that it may well be the training provider who takes over the selection of the EPAO on behalf of the employer. With a plethora of new organisations on the register, old loyalties may not hold sway.

End point assessment is unassailably the vital, and perhaps most vexing, part of the governments’ flagship vocational education policy.

EPA will build robustness into the assessment of knowledge, skills and behaviours and the Gateway point is pivotal in achieving this trust and assurance.

Sallyann Baldry, Apprenticeships Consultant, Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB)

The Federation of Awarding Bodies commissioned Sallyann Baldry to undertake the research, which comprised over 50 in-depth telephone interviews in summer 2017. Sallyann is a vocational education specialist and has spent 25 years working with awarding organisations.

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