There’s no denying that when looking at Apprenticeship quality assurance the alphabet soup of organisations involved is confusing.
- Level 2 and 3: For quality oversight of training we have at level 2 and 3 Ofsted inspection.
- Level and 5: At level 4 and 5 there’s Ofsted inspection and for those on the OfS register, Ofsted inspection and OfS regulation.
- Level 6 and 7: At level 6 and 7 there’s no Ofsted inspection, but for those on the OfS Register we have OfS regulation. For providers delivering higher apprenticeships at 6 and 7 that are not on the OfS register – there’s a vacuum.
For Apprenticeship End Point Assessment external quality assurance (EQA) a Trailblazer can choose a professional body, the employers themselves, Ofqual or the IfATE (which bizarrely subcontracted it’s role to an Ofqual regulated Awarding Organisation not once but twice).
For integrated Degree Apprenticeships, with the integrated model now the preferred option for the IfATE, there’s one ‘choice’ - QAA.
Ofsted inspection for all Apprenticeships
Understandably there have been arguments for a simpler system or a system that ensures consistency of standards across all Apprenticeships. In the FE Press this has led to calls for the logical solution to be Ofsted inspection of ALL apprenticeships.
Ofsted inspection for all Apprenticeships has also emerged as a recommendation in the Augar Review. Apart from simplicity such a recommendation is just plain wrong.
While Augar recognises the issue of duplication and complexity in the current system the solution proposed has absolutely no merit and could undermine employer and individual faith in Apprenticeship quality.
Let’s look at the facts
Apprenticeship is no longer just a further education programme, but a programme that also encompasses level 4 and 5 (technically higher education) and level 6 and 7.
Indeed, Degree Apprenticeship is the fastest growing part of the Apprenticeship market. Why? The answer’s obvious. Employers need and trust this provision and therefore want to purchase Degree Apprenticeship.
I’d add large employers, such as in the public sector (which Augar greatly underplays, if not entirely ignores, despite the major growth in public sector degree apprenticeships that is about to take place) aren’t going to choose a poor quality provider or programme through which to train nurses or police constables.
Quality is underpinned by OfS regulation and established QAA process – the Quality Code, Advice and Guidance for Work-based Learning and the Higher Education in Apprenticeships Characteristics Statement (currently subject to consultation).
Professional and Statutory Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) are key here and QAA works with around ninety.
PSRBs are the guardians of ensuring quality and consistency for training programmes that develop occupational competence and have worked with HE for many decades to develop approaches that deliver.
Why would Ministers suggest Ofsted should march into PSRB territory and duplicate established and proven higher education system?
What does Ofsted know about the training of registered nurses, social workers, architects etc.?
The question of track record
We then have the question of track record – the Government’s own Industrial Strategy described England’s HE sector as ‘world-class’.
In contrast last time I checked on school performance in PISA international school league tables, Ofsted’s primary focus, England ranked 27th in maths, 22nd in reading and 15th in Science.
‘Average’ and certainly not ‘good’ (if I am being charitable) perhaps best describes our position. The logic’s therefore also clear Ofsted should focus on improving school performance and Apprenticeship at levels 2 and 3.
There are, however, some changes that would make a lot of sense. Ofqual as the EQA body at levels 2 and 3 would help ensure consistency and equally important would help give Apprenticeship a ‘qualification status’ thereby supporting transferability and progression.
At levels 4 – 7 Trailblazers should have a choice from QAA, Ofqual, a PSRB or by exception employers themselves.
Having the IfATE as a choice, which simply subcontracts its role to a third party, seems to make little sense.
For training provision the logic would be Ofsted focuses on level 2 and 3 and OfS on levels 4 – 7. I’d however raise a few questions.
In terms of quality assuring Apprenticeship training provision Ofsted and OfS should be asked by Ministers to outline their approach and how they measure impact. There will be differences.
The assumption that the same inspection or regulation approach is appropriate at level 2 and level 7 seems bizarre.
If I were Minister I would ask each organisation to outline how their approach ensures the policy objectives of Apprenticeship are delivered.
So a straightforward question to Ofsted – how does the Common Inspection Framework (and its successor the Education Inspection Framework) ensure Apprenticeships delivered by a provider have the maximum impact on the productivity of an employer as well as impacting on the experience and destination of the apprentice?
Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC)