Jennifer Coupland, IfATE

@IFAteched publishes First External Quality Assurance annual report highlighting key findings around how #EPA and #EQA has been delivered throughout 2020.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute) has today (16 Dec) published the first External Quality Assurance (EQAP) annual report.

It acknowledges that the past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone involved with apprenticeships – but a flexible approach to assessment that preserves quality has served the sector well.

Jennifer Coupland 100x100Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said:

“I’m incredibly proud of all the fantastic work the sector has done with the Institute to ensure that EPA and EQA has continued successfully throughout the pandemic, allowing large numbers of apprentices to complete and move on with their exciting careers.

“While there are areas to improve on, this report shows that the vast majority of assessment is being delivered to a high-standard which is encouraging as we look ahead to 2021.”

“The report found that a common factor for end point assessment organisations delivering good EPA is that they bring together occupational and assessment expertise to design and deliver assessments which are relevant and authentic to the occupation.

“We will be careful to preserve both of those elements as we move through transition to our new EQA model.

“Good progress is being made with EQA. I would like to thank everyone who participated in our consultation on our plans to move to a simplified model. All EQA will be delivered by Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS), under a framework set by the Institute.

“We are also setting up a new directory of professional and employer-led organisations for Ofqual and OfS to draw on industry expertise.

“This was our first annual report on EQA and we will publish every year from now on.”

Key findings around how end point assessment (EPA) and EQA has been delivered throughout 2020 

The Institute has worked closely with EQA providers, employer groups, and assessment organisations to design and approve over 100 flexibilities to the way EPA can be delivered.

This has included allowing for greater use of technology so assessment can be done remotely. These flexibilities have been extended until at least the end of March to provide much-needed stability.

EPA, taken at the end of the apprenticeship, allows the apprentice to showcase how they have developed all the required knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for the occupation they have trained in.

Its introduction was a major step forward for quality from the old apprenticeship frameworks, switched off in August, which did not require assessment after training had been completed.

The report published today reflects that most employers and apprentices who have experienced EPA consider it to be relevant, reliable, and robust.

It also reflects on how the EQA system is working and areas for improvement.

The Institute announced its plans to move to a simplified EQA system back in August. It means that in future all EQA will be delivered by Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS).

The first wave of apprenticeship end-point-assessments changed over to Ofqual as their new EQA provider from November and we will manage the transition of all apprenticeships over the next two-years.

Next steps and plans for the future

The temporary flexibilities and discretions that have been permitted have allowed assessment to continue during a difficult time. This has been to the benefit of individual apprentices, and of the apprenticeship system as a whole.

In due course, when England moves out of lockdown, the Institute will need to ensure that the apprenticeship assessment system is able to return to a more normal way of doing business in an orderly manner, and learning the lessons from how assessment has been delivered over recent months. The Institute will follow national guidance in doing this and maintain the flexibilities and discretions whilst they remain necessary. They do, however, anticipate that the purpose of temporary changes to end-point assessment will change over the coming months.

The original temporary flexibilities and discretions approved from April this year have generally been used to allow apprentices who have reached the end of their apprenticeship to take the assessment. However, the Institute will increasingly need to deal fairly with apprentices who have experienced significant disruption to their off-the-job and, in particular, on-the-job apprenticeship experience. The changes the Institute have permitted over recent months have prioritised manageability and deliverability in unique circumstances.

Where substantive changes have been made these have been signed-off by employer representatives but in much quicker timescales than the Institute would normally require. They have not been through the full consultation and consideration by a wide group of employers that is normally provided by the Institute’s trailblazers and route panels and external consultations. Therefore, whilst they have achieved their purpose (of keeping assessments happening), there may be a risk that they have lost the richness, nuance and support/buy-in the original methodologies had.

It may also be true that some of the flexibilities and alternative assessments which have been used during this period provide more efficient and at least as effective assessment of occupational competence than the published assessment plan. In these instances, the Institute would want to explore with trailblazers and others whether the assessment plan should be reviewed and amended more permanently to reflect the ways assessment has been delivered in recent months, whilst still preserving the core principles of apprenticeship end-point assessment.

The Institute will review flexibilities individually, based on their approval dates, and the latest government guidelines, alongside an escalation route for sector actors to request a review of a standard’s flexibilities. The Institute is working to ensure that all flexibilities and temporary discretions, are reviewed in a time appropriate manner.

Any plans to revert to the published assessment plans will have a lead in time of 12 weeks to ensure that there are no ‘cliff edges’ for EPAOs.

Sector Response to the first External Quality Assurance annual report.

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:tom bewick100x100

“The Federation welcomes this first report from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which helps to shine a light on how well end-point assessment is working in the apprenticeship marketplace since it was first introduced only a few years ago. We know from work with our own members, like that we recently profiled in Quality in Apprenticeships, that both employers and apprentices really do value the independent check on their competence that uniquely comes from a system of robust, well-regulated, EPAOs.

“The challenge now is to build on the strengths of EPA found in this report, as well as correcting some of the weaknesses highlighted by the EQA process. Thankfully, both the Institute and the Department for Education, via the Quality Alliance, have already committed to on-going changes that will see the major streamlining of the EPAO regulatory and operational environment in future. My only criticism of this report is that it is perhaps too heavy on discursive content about the performance of the EPAO network.

"In contrast, it is too light on the kind of hard metrics which would help employers and providers, in particular, discern what good really looks like and where in the marketplace they can find it. Efficient markets depend on clear signals for consumers (price, performance and results); and so it is important in future that more real time data is placed in the public domain about the actual performance and operational scope of every single EPAO that is on the register. To not pursue greater transparency in the EPAO marketplace will just end up leaving the public shortchanged.”  

Terry fennell 100x100 pixelsTerry Fennell, Chief Executive, FDQ said: 

"With over 320 end point assessment organisations now approved by the ESFA, I believe 2021 will be a watershed year for the marketplace as external quality assurance responsibilities transition to Ofqual and all EPAOs are subject to regulatory conditions of recognition. I welcome the move for a level playing field for all EPAOs because quality assurance of delivery of EPA is critical for sustainability and long-term confidence in the system.

"It is however concerning that in today’s EQA report fundamental delivery practices such as occupational expertise and understanding of design, delivery and moderation of assessment practice should be singled out as ‘good’ when in 2020 this should really be a minimum expectation for EPAOs and suggests to me the IfATE and EQA bodies have not found these practices in their monitoring work.

"That said, I strongly believe when delivered correctly end point assessment has been a game-changer for apprenticeships providing much greater integrity into the system with apprentices able to demonstrate occupational competence in an independent setting."

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