Dr Rebecca Conway is the Head of Strategy and Policy at the Federation of Awarding Bodies

2020 was always slated to be a landmark year for apprenticeships in England with the withdrawal of apprenticeship frameworks and wholesale shift to the new standard-based model.

Back in 2012 when Doug Richard’s review set the foundations for this new system, the economic challenges facing the country were vastly different to those we’re now seeing after months of lockdown restrictions and ongoing uncertainty. It’s more vital than ever that our apprenticeship system delivers.

England’s apprenticeship reforms were designed to improve quality and the overall work-readiness of apprentices. End-point assessment (EPA) is one of the innovations that’s been introduced to meet those aims.

It’s an important change from the old framework model where apprentices could show off their qualification certificates but there was no final check on their workplace competence. EPA is delivered at the end of an apprentice’s programme by an end-point assessment organisation (EPAO) to provide that reassurance.

Independent EPA: The cornerstone of a quality apprenticeship

As the lead association for EPAOs, the Federation of Awarding Bodies has long supported the government’s reform agenda and the drive to improve quality. That’s the focus of our new report: Quality in Apprenticeships: How end-point assessments are producing better skilled, higher quality workers.

Quality in Apprenticeships looks at EPA in depth, exploring how it works to provides an essential check that apprentices have the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for their industry. We think that independent EPA is the cornerstone of a quality apprenticeship and we’re not alone.

I spoke to apprentices, employers, EPAOs and providers to understand how they felt about EPA and these case studies are included in our new publication.

Our case studies suggest that the independence of EPA, and the quality mechanisms that ensure a consistent approach to delivery, are respected by employers and providers.

As Mandy Reader, UK Apprenticeship & Supply Chain Capability Manager at PepsiCo UK, reflected, “it gives you the final sign off that an individual is working to national standards for the industry.”

This is particularly valuable in PepsiCo’s frontline manufacturing operation where EPA is used to identify high performing team members with the potential for further study and progression to more senior roles within the business.

Supporting apprentices in achieving their potential 

Quality in Apprenticeships shines a light onto the ways in which employers, EPAOs and providers collaborate to support apprentices in achieving their potential. The logistical challenges presented by COVID-19 have brought this relationship to the fore.

Kate Mooney manages BT’s apprenticeship programmes and appreciates the support that EPAOs have provided to her team, particularly during lockdown. “EPAOs have been very responsive when we’ve had questions and were proactive in finding ways to deliver adapted EPA,” she said.

This meant that apprentices on programme avoided breaks in their learning and the overall disruption from lockdown and social distancing was minimised. Temporary adaptations to EPA, like remotely invigilated tests, have now been agreed for more than 130 apprenticeship standards to support apprentices in completing their programmes despite COVID. We’re working with the Institute to look closely at adapted EPA and consider where changes could be introduced permanently without reducing the validity of the assessment.

The apprenticeship standards model is still in its infancy but I’m proud of how far we’ve come and the innovative ways that employers, EPAOs and providers have responded to the joint challenges of reform and COVID-19.

There are further changes to EPA on the horizon with the roll-out of a streamlined external quality assurance system over the next two years and the recent announcement that competency tests may be included in EPA for professions where these are set by a statutory regulator.

We’ll continue to champion quality and the key role that EPA plays in our world class apprenticeship system.

At the heart of every quality apprenticeship is #QualityEPA.

Dr Rebecca Conway is the Head of Strategy and Policy at the Federation of Awarding Bodies

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