Being an End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO) and working with a range of different External Quality Assurance bodies (EQA) can often feel like playing on a football team where all the players are doing their own thing.
The striker is pacing back and forth, the centre-backs are running in the other direction and the goalkeeper is taking a snooze.
Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it? Own goals could easily be a reality without a referee in place to support consistency and fair decision making.
Every player, EPAOs and EQAs wants the same thing – to win –to provide a high class end-point assessment service to apprentices- yet we’re all going about it in different ways.
The only way to score those goals, though, is to work together with a common purpose and a common rule book that is understood and reinforced by the referee (The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education).
To date players have been given little guidance and consistency in application of this guidance has been limited, but now, there is hope.
No rules makes for conflicted messages
On 15 March 2019, I wrote in FE News about the need for a common set of rules for the EQA of EPA. I made the argument that the large number of EQAs was making quality-assuring EPA too difficult and confusing.
Different EQAs were delivering conflicting messages about best practice. EPA couldn’t be properly delivered because of poorly produced assessment plans and some EQAs were taking months to deliver visit reports.
I could go on.
Quality assurance can be the unsung hero in that what it represents, high quality performance, is the base line expectation for what the sector deserves leaving only the downfall of this to be shouted about.
In that sense, The Institute is in an unenviable position. They are in charge of creating rules for a game that was invented before their time and one that is constantly evolving.
To their credit, they are stepping up their game.
The new framework
In response to my article (and many other calls from other EPAOs and EQA bodies), the Institute has responded, taking a deep dive in to external quality assurance within apprenticeships and end-point assessment to truly get under its skin, go back to basics about its core purpose and understand the frustrations, and challenges of each player.
Removing assumptions that sparse overviews and wafer thin guidelines will ensure consistency they have developed and are launching a much sought after EQA framework.
This new framework aims to support the elevation of apprenticeship reputations by providing clear and standardised quality assurance, inclusive of EQA practice across all apprenticeship standards.
It will help players to have an altogether more consistent view on what quality provision looks like and provide in more detail the role of EQA bodies. This will help to standardise their approach and outline their remit and powers under the overarching regulation of The Institute.
With a common set of rules and clearer role remits and boundaries, this revised approach should also alleviate pain endured by EPAOs from having to go through the motions of providing and explaining generic processes and policies to each individual EQA body with a new centralisation and managed EQA approach - Halleluiah!!!
As professionals in the sector, we are all striving to reach the gold standard and be assured by external parties, as well as our own internal self-assessment processes, that what we are delivering is a high quality service.
With a new staged approval process and examples of what good and outstanding practice looks like we can be assured that we are being judged consistently.
The Institute has been consultative in its approach to developing this framework, seeking feedback from EQA bodies and along with a small handful of other EPAOs we were also engaged with to provide feedback on the draft product.
Beyond direct consultation The Institute has solicited feedback and guidance at forums, conferences and summit events, where they have addressed audiences to update them of this coming development and how they are working with and not against the sectors demands.
We could all keep up the chant that such a framework should have been in place long before now, but constant shouting about the problem doesn’t fix it and we each now need to take responsibility to proactively engage with our wider team and this new framework.
The Institute needs to be relentless in its approach to cascading the framework and its content to each of its EQA bodies to ensure this becomes something of substance, and be open to further collaboration to allow this rule book to pragmatically develop.
Equally EPAOs need to trust in the process, be assured that this will provide a level playing field, wheedle out anyone that isn’t meeting the much needed quality standard so that collectively we can continue to work as a united sector to drive forwards the quality in apprenticeship delivery and end-point assessment.