In this article we explore how the EPAO Quality Alliance was formed and why it is needed. We also share how the Alliance intends to improve collaboration and standardisation between EPAOs and set an ethical charter for how EPAOs within the alliance operate and behave.
The end of the contract year approaches and in what must be an extremely busy time for most EPAOs, as providers across the country push through as many apprentices as possible to improve their QAR, some of the country’s leading EPAOs gathered together, to form the EPAO Quality Alliance.
Chaired and organised by Sak Awan, Director of S Knights Recruitment and founder of EPA Hub, the EPAO Quality Alliance, is a forum for like minded EPAOs to share best practice, insight, standardise approach and to develop a level playing field for EPAOs. With the ambition that apprentices, employers and providers receive improved levels of quality and consistency. It is a voluntary, collaborative and forward-thinking collective of competitive EPAOs, with the aim of ensuring that whichever EPAO an employer selects, they know if they are a part of the Quality Alliance, they have a shared approach to ethics and quality.
Sak recently spoke about the inspiration to form the Alliance:
“Change often happens in a moment… and the moment for me was watching Jake from DSW and Lee from OAL at the bar of a conference. You would assume they were fierce competitors, but in reality, they were discussing the lived challenges and solutions they’ve overcome as EPAO’s. Along with Helen from 1st for EPA, the idea was born, let’s make the conversation more inclusive and the bar more accessible. Since then, to have 40 organisations attend with over 50 attendees for our first meeting – all with the sole intention to share, learn and support each other collectively, has been phenomenal”.
The ESFA, Ofqual and IfATE have regularly encourage collaboration between EPAOs but were never explicit about what this should be, who would facilitate this and for what purpose. Whilst listening to a conversation between Jake Tween, Director of Apprenticeships at Doran Scott Williams (DSW), and Lee Reddington, Partnership Director at Occupational Awards Limited (OAL), Sak was inspired by the openness, shared obstacles and challenges but most importantly, the shared ethics and values of two competing organisations.
Jake Tween, Director of Apprenticeships from DSW said:
“For a number of years now I have had an ambition to set up a forum which focuses on those aspects of End-Point Assessment that fall through the collective nets of policy, regulation and standardisation. I’m delighted to have come across like-minded professionals who share this vision and it’s an honour to be one of the founding members of the EPAO Quality Alliance.”
This was further developed when Helen Shinner, Managing Director of 1st for EPA, volunteered to lead on and be involved in a collaborative approach from EPAOs. Following further discussions with Lee, Jake and Helen, Sak established the EPAO Quality Alliance, with 1st for EPA, DSW, EPA Hub and OAL as the founders.
We asked Sak why he took the lead in forming the Alliance:
“Collaboration, bringing people together and pioneering change has always been at the core of what I do, be that through S Knights Recruitment, or EPA Hub; both of which support Organisations in our sector with Recruitment. It also means I am uniquely positioned in the sector, in that we have a bird’s eye view of the whole industry, seeing what’s happening across the landscape. The EPAO Quality Alliance was born through the shared desire, of likeminded leaders who deeply care for the sector, who genuinely wanted to support others as well as themselves and bring the EPAO community together to solve challenges collectively and learn from each other”.
In the months following those initial meetings, Sak and his team at EPA Hub contacted a wide range of EPAOs, to establish demand and appetite and arranged the inaugural meeting of the Alliance for 5th May, which was attended by over 50 directors, managers and leaders from thirty-nine different EPAOs. Sak chaired and opened discussions led primarily by Jake Tween and Lee Reddington, with contributions from many of the attendees, on topics such as apprentices taking notes in assessments and how to ensure these were destroyed, the number of re-sits and re-takes allowed, when not defined by the assessment plan, how best to approach EPA when the sensitive nature of the employer meant that documents used for EPA evidence were heavily censored or redacted and how to reassure employers about the confidentiality of EPA and EPAOs.
Beyond this, Sak proposed various subgroups which could focus on certain key topics and areas such as; Assessment Plans, Ofqual, Business Development, Standardisation and Recruitment. The first session was closed with a proposal from Lee Reddington, that the group develop an ethical charter on the approach, conduct and behaviour of EPAOs within the Alliance, which received considerable support from the attendees and will form an integral part in the future of the Alliance.
Lee Reddington commented:
“Although EPAOs are heavily regulated by Ofqual and have to pass a rigorous application process, from both Ofqual and IfATE to get on the register of EPAOs, I have always felt that there was a gap when it came to standardising the approach of EPAOs and very little attention was given to their ethical approach in how they communicated and behaved with employers and providers. Working with the Alliance I have found a group of like-minded individuals and organisations, who all have the best interests of the apprentices and the employers and providers they work with at the heart of their approach”
Although the EPAO Quality Alliance is only in its infancy, regular meetings have been scheduled throughout 2023 and once the sub-groups are established and the Charter is defined, the impact and benefits for employers, providers and most importantly apprentices, who use EPAOs who are part of the Alliance, can only be positive.
Jake Tween from DSW added:
“Through our work with the Alliance we seek to standardise practices across the EPAO network, improving access to apprenticeships and providing safe, secure and comfortable experiences which allow apprentices to be the best version of themselves on the day. The work of the Alliance complements that of other industry groups and forums, including FAB, AELP and the Department for Education. The desire of EPAOs to proactively come together in this way is truly inspiring. We continue to welcome new members into the Alliance, and I look forward to working with you all!”
With 39 EPAOs represented in the first meeting alone the future looks bright for the Alliance with quality and consistency of assessment the assured outcome. With the introduction of the new Apprenticeship Providers and Assessment Register (APAR) and the contradictions this brings to employer led policy and the recently published funding rules, there could not be a more vital time for EPAOs to present a combined voice and bring a sense of stability and consistency to the apprenticeship world.