Tom talks exclusively to Sir Gerry Berragan, CEO Institute for Apprenticeships, and Graham Hasting-Evans, Group MD, NOCN about End-Point Assessment and why robust independence is key to the success of England’s apprenticeship reforms.
Essential listening, especially if you are an end-point assessment organisation.
What is the value of End-Point Assessment, and what are the challenges?
Graham Hasting-Evans: I think the value is it will give the employer confidence the person can do the job, and I think that is potentially better than the sampling methods we’ve had with qualifications where we’ve tested a few and the assumption is everyone can then do it. I think that's the big change.
I think the challenges are the system that we’ve currently designed over the past 6 years is fairly bureaucratic and slow, and needs to speed up, and I know the Institute (IfA) has done work on that.
I think the big challenges will be being able to find enough assessors to actually do it, as we scale up.
We’ve got low numbers at the moment, maybe 10% of the Government’s old target. As we try to scale up, it's finding the assessors in the volumes that we need and at the quality that we need them.
Tom Bewick: It's still relatively early days around EPA. Low numbers of volume have come through against the new standards. I heard a figure the other day that next April we could be up to as many as 117,000 apprentices that are ready for EPA.
On this challenge of capability and capacity, is that something that keeps you awake at night?
Sir Gerry Berragan: Yes, it is actually. I think it’s a really good point, and firstly let me say I think EPA is great. I obviously agree with Graham on this, I think.
I come from a military background. No military training ends without trade test, that trade test is absolutely a test of capability, whether you can demonstrate you can complete the task unsupervised with the right knowledge. So I think EPA generally is a huge step forward in terms of the skills landscape of this country.
But, as Graham said, it’s a huge change. It’s new, it's not been out there before, and growing something from nothing is a huge challenge.
I think the reforms generally, particularly apprenticeship reforms, have a huge impact on the awarding organisations, and those who become EPAOs, and also on Training Providers who also have a challenge to switch from frameworks to standards.
I recognise what Graham is saying about growing the number of assessors. I also recognise that instructors in Colleges and Training Providers is an issue as well.
I don’t think the numbers just quoted are the same ones I’m looking at. I think in this coming year we will see something in the region of 18 to 20,000 EPAs.
You can see, when you look at the figures of starts going out, that figure is ramping up rapidly, so I can certainly see it being in the hundreds of thousands before too long.
Therefore the time available to put in place the right infrastructure for assessors is limited.
How important is the independence of the assessment process?
Graham Hasting-Evans: I think independence is important because I think that gives the reassurance both to the apprentice and to their employer.
I think the big challenge it creates is that we have had a system of internal assessment within colleges in training providers. Those assessors can assess - I am not decrying their skills – but end-point assessment is different to assessment on-program, it requires some different skills.
Their skills in industry are not always current if they have been in a training provider for a long time. So, I think the big challenge for all of us is to ensure we’ve got end-point assessors who also understand the current requirements of industry and are update. That is going to present the big challenge.
We’re finding that actually the source of good end-point assessors is to take people out of industry and train people to be assessors, because they got the currency.
That seems to be easier than taking people out the training environment and bringing them up to speed.
Who’s responsibility is it to attract industry assessors?
Graham Hasting-Evans: I think to date all of the EPAOs have been left to try and struggle with it on their own. AELP has very helpfully put together, with a group of us, a training program for EPAs. So they've started to help, I think if we could all sit down and work out how we are going to do this, and maybe some government funding, perhaps in terms of some of the training to ensure that we get the numbers, but it is definitely our responsibility.
They work for us, they’ve got to do what we tell them to do, and do it in the way we want them to do it, so we must carry that responsibility, but it would be very useful to have some wider support.
What is the role of the IfA in trying to help build capacity for the EPA market?
Sir Gerry Berragan: I think what we can do is facilitate. We’ve got very good links with employers, I think that’s something we can offer. They’re very committed to this new apprenticeship system. I think talking to them about people they can identify that would make good assessors, who may be coming to a career break, or something in their own industries that want to make a move.
To mirror what Graham said, I think you are much better in assessment terms if you’ve got someone who’s got current experience in industry training to become an assessor, than trying to do it the other way round.
I think it is almost impossible to try and train someone who is an assessor to then become an expert, in whatever particular subject it is.
I do think there is a role for employers here looking at potential assessors, and helping us and helping the assessment organisations to recruit them and give them the training they need.
In 5 years time, what does success look like for apprenticeship reforms?
Graham Hasting-Evans: Success for me is that the employers are getting apprentices at the end of their time, what ever that is, that can work very productively, in the environment that will exist in 5 years time, which is much more digital than it is currently today.
If we can’t achieve that, then I believe that the policy will not have succeeded.
Sir Gerry Berragan: I’d absolutely agree. This is all about productivity, it’s all about growing the GDP of the country over the next 5 years. Therefore, these reforms are not the only strand, but they are a key strand in that.