Mike Cooper, Senior Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

Kevin the Teenager might just have had a fair point...

Remember him? One of Harry Enfield’s funnier, best-observed, most recognisable characters – even on film, trying so hard and failing so comically to ‘go large’ in Ibiza with his mate Perry.

Kevin the Teenager’s main catch-phrase was “It’s SOOOO unfair!”, usually deployed to his parents and others when he simply didn’t fancy a request or chore. Parents, teachers and other adults smiled and winced in equal measure. We probably still do, whenever he or that catchphrase come to mind, nowadays.

The stakes involved when that self-pitying howl erupted were always pretty low. We knew he was silly and wrong, pursuing a different outcome that just plain didn’t matter very much.

Now think about it in terms of apprenticeships – in particular, end-point assessment.

No longer ‘low stakes’. Not so easily dismissed as mere adolescent whining. Not confined just to Kevin and his narrow world. And definitely not very funny. The concept of ‘fair’ assessment is crucial to the apprenticeship reforms.

It’s inextricably linked with the idea of an ‘end-point’, after the Gateway – instead of the old frameworks-based idea of continuous on-course assessment with lots of chances to get it right (or at least ‘right-er’).

Fairness has always mattered, of course: just as much for apprenticeships as any other qualifications and their processes. However, this new game is more complex, with multiple structures and hurdles to jump which all bring their own questions of evaluation, rigour and achievement.

The fundamental change from pass-fail assessment to a graded system is highly significant, and involves all sorts of issues around the idea of a fair process.

Add in the business of a terminal stage to a long learning process, with strong echoes of academic examinations, and there’s a much-increased ‘on-the-day’ load of stress for all involved. Then, there’s also the contentious issuesaround extra costs.

So, the stakes are now much higher. That’s not just for the apprentice, too: a wider set of players have more ‘skin in the game’ – employers, training providers and end-point assessors/organisations themselves.

All this is profoundly people-based, even given more technological approaches such as on-line tests of knowledge. That’s right and proper. Nevertheless, the ‘human element’ brings risks – in those creating and administering all the different assessment instruments, those helping learners prepare for, and those assessing (never mind all the learners engaged in demonstrating their knowledge, skills and behaviours for a big prize at the end). And one of the big problems naturally concerns fairness.

Fairness has to be across both time and place.

That fairness has to apply to all learners, in every occupational area/standard, at all levels. 

Yet being fair to an apprentice cannot mean being ‘soft’ or ‘sloppy’, in ways that compromise things for everyone. It starts at the individual level, though; and that’s where the impact is most immediate and most deeply felt – either when things are handled fairly, or they’re not.

What does this all mean for those organisations and individual professionals involved, then?

In terms of the ‘machinery’, Gateway and assessment instruments must guarantee both appropriate access and proper rigour for all apprentices. This means not ‘hamstringing’them due to their personal situations under the protected characteristics of the Equality Act. At the same time,any such even-handed, sensitivemethods and criteria also need to foster and maintain stable, reliable ranking and discrimination across the various boundaries of grading.

All this is initially a matter for those who set the rules: trailblazers and end-point assessment organisations. Usefully, there’s a long heritage in the awarding bodies’ experienceswith traditional academic exams. That won’t be sufficient, though.

In the end, it’s the people at the professional sharp end who will have to deal most closely, and influentially, with the business of fair assessment of apprentices, from day-to-day teaching learning, attempting the Gateway and the actual end-point assessment activity.

The practical demands of vocational and occupational training will throw up many issues. These need considerable forethought, effective trialling, careful monitoring, coupled with the constant review and revision arising.

Many of those who have to do the teaching and assessing will need thorough training and regular support in all of this, often from scratch.And to repeat, they’re people. The human element, mentioned above, kicks in no matter what the systems are like.

This can involve – probably quite unintentionally, in most every case, and also often unnoticed – a number of issues in trainers and assessors.

This might be:

  • the ‘halo effect’- assessing too positively, on the basis of a single good characteristic
  • the ‘horns effect’- bias in the other way, over-emphasising one problem
  • the ‘leniency effect’- the assessor’s mental state of mind at the time of assessment is an overly lenient factor in judgements
  • the ‘stringency effect’- the reverse of the above
  • the ‘recency effect’- greater weight is given to recent or current experience than to earlier performance

All of this can be quite subtle. Superficially, these effects can even appear reasonable and acceptable. They’re ultimately all unfair, however. And they can appear anywhere along the apprenticeship journey, and especially when approaching the Gateway or tackling the assessment instruments.

So, what to do in order to try and ensure fairness for all, throughout?

First and foremost, recognise the potential for risks. This is hard, for both organisations and individuals. It means acknowledging likely weaknesses – professional and personal, existing or possible. Accepting the possibility of this in general, followed by seeing the need to manage such risk and weakness as best as possible, are the interlinked keys for people and institutions.

Managing will usually lead to coping, and thus to minimising the risks of unfairness. There are of course many other kinds of risk and weakness involved in delivering apprenticeships and end-point assessment, to be sure. This one matters just as much, and demands appropriate attention and efforts by all concerned.

In the end, there’s nothing to prevent the Kevin the Teenagers of this world moaning – or anyone of any age or type who is so inclined. “It’s SOOOO unfair!” will no doubt continue to be thought, felt and expressed.

After all, apprentices are human (just like teenagers: really, they are!). But it’s our job to provide the best conditions of fairness ‘right across the patch’ in the delivery of apprenticeships, and the assessment of each individual’s performance against the standards involved.

Then we can justifiably say: “No, Kevin: you’re wrong.”

Mike Cooper, Senior Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

About Strategic Development Network: SDN has worked with over 50 EPAOs (and their assessor teams) to set up and start delivering end-point assessment. Places are now also available on our Level 3 Award in Undertaking End-Point Assessment. We’ve also produced a set of recorded presentations covering the main end-point assessment methods and critical areas of practice. Feel free to join our mailing list or End-Point Assessment LinkedIn Group for more updates.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page