Managing and mitigating conflicts of interest is a critical part of the design and delivery of End-point Assessment (EPA).
It must be covered in applications to the Register of End-point Assessment Organisations (RoEpAOs) and forms a central part of the conditions of acceptance for End-point Assessment Organisation (EpAOs).
It will also be checked by the external quality assurance provider as part of readiness and as part of ongoing monitoring (as detailed in the EQA manual).
End-point Assessment must be independent, and that independence must be at an organisation and assessor level from organisational set-up, through design, and into delivery.
This therefore means that EpAOs must have clear and operational policies and procedures in place to ensure that their end-point assessment operation and service is free of conflicts of interest.
It is important to remember that conflicts of interest can be:
- Potential, or
Conflicts of interest can wide ranging, but here are a five examples:
Where an organisation on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) and on the RoEpAO wishes to assess apprentices they have been involved in training (this is very clearly against the rules, and is explained in the introduction to the register paragraph 2.3, and in the conditions section 6.6)
Where an individual organisation may gain financially from their involvement, for example though shareholdings in competitor companies or apprenticeship training providers
3. Intellectual property
Where an individual or organisation may gain an advantage from their involvement, for example, a self-employed sector occupational expert being involved in the design of end-point assessment materials when they also work with training providers delivering the apprenticeship they are involved in designing the EPA tools for
Where an assessor may not assess independently impartially or objectively because they are related to, or close friends with an apprentice, or where an assessor has managed the apprentice, or has been involved in an element of their training.
Where a person involved in EPA expresses view that may be prejudicial and could prevent them from operating in an impartial manner
Because of such wide ranging perceived, potential or actual conflicts of interest, I believe that the conflict of interest policies and procedures of end-point assessment organisations (EpAOs) should cover, as a minimum:
- The organisation (parent companies, sister companies, governing bodies etc)
- Employees of the EpAO
- Experts who are involved in the design of end-point assessment tools
- End-point assessors (and invigilators, where applicable)
- Internal quality assurers at the EpAO
- Those involved in panels at the EpAO associated with policies such as, appeals, malpractice, complaints, and sanctions.
An EpAO will need to be able to demonstrate though their conflict of interest policy and procedures how they will:
- Raise awareness and understanding of conflicts of interest
- Identify and record conflicts of interest
- Mitigate conflicts of interest
- Manage conflicts of interest
- Review conflicts of interest
From experience, I would recommend considering the following:
- Codes of practice for all those involved, this may mean, for example, one for assessors, one for experts involved in tool design, one for staff, one for governing body members, and so on
- Conflict of interest training to be integrated into all manuals / handbooks and training sessions
- Nominated senior responsible officer for conflicts of interest and the associated conflict of interest records and management
- Regular review process for conflicts of interest, this could be, for example, per cohort for assessors, each time a new employer selects the EpAO, the addition of new RoEpAO approval for your organisation, at each governing body meeting, and so on
- Clear recorded, and auditable, mechanism covering conflicts of interest. I have seen many excellent examples of processes for declaring, and recording, conflicts of interest, but one observation I do have relates to recording where there are no conflicts of interest. If an EpAO only requires declarations to be completed if there are perceived/potential/actual conflict of interest, how does the EpAO prove that those who have not declared anything have fully understood conflicts of interests and did not have a conflict of interest? It could be as simple as an additional tick box on a declaration to say that they have read and understood the policy/procedure and/or attended the EpAO training and do not have a conflict of interest.
I hope that my recommendations and observations are of use.
Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting
If you would like to know more about end-point assessment, I have authored a range of articles that you may find helpful:
- Assessing behaviours in EPA
- Overcoming the challenges of EPA
- Translating a standard into a curriculum
- How to become an EpAO
- Gateway to EPA, more than just a tick box exercise
- Lifting the lid on EQA
- Employer led EQA