From education to employment

Hints and Tips on Ofqual Compliance – Lessons Learnt from 2023 – Part 1

Jacqui Molkenthin

During 2023 I supported many EpAOs with their ongoing compliance and commitment to continuous improvement, so I thought I’d share some of the themes that I have observed, as it may help the sector with their ongoing compliance considerations:

1. Follow the Assessment Plan to the Letter

It is clear from Ofqual monitoring and technical evaluations that the assessment plan is sacrosanct:

(a) Unless Ofqual has formally accepted that you can do something other than the exact words of the assessment plan, you must deliver exactly as written. This applies even if a former (pre Ofqual) EQA has approved an adaptation, or if there is as error in the assessment plan. My advice to EpAOs is that if you can’t deliver to the exact words, no matter how insignificant, report it to Ofqual and follow your procedures for the management of risk and adverse effects.

(b) If an assessment plan uses specific words, you must use them. For example, some EpAOs use the word ‘refer’ or ‘not yet competent’ or ‘not all criteria met’ as opposed to the word ‘fail’ as it is softer language for the apprentice. However, if the assessment plan uses the word ‘fail’ you must use the word ‘fail’ in your documents.

2. If you have said it, prove it (and keep your policies up to date)

As part of my compliance work, I review policies and often ask the EpAO to provide evidence that they have followed the process (subject to GDPR). I have seen examples of where the EpAO has not been able to provide an audit trail that maps back to the actions stated within the policy.  In the vast majority of cases this has been because the EpAO has adapted their approach to improve it as they have learnt lessons; however, for whatever reason, this adaptation has not been reflected through an updated policy and a record of the update/change on the change/revisions/version log. 

3. Use the Ofqual ‘positive indicators’ to help guide you

Within the Ofqual Conditions (Handbook), Ofqual provides examples of positive and negative indicators. While I do admit they are very traditionally exam-focused; they do provide some brilliant hints. Remember, if Ofqual has suggested it, it may well be a good indicator that they will use these to inform their reviews and evaluations of your approach.

4. Get Your Title Right

Just a few clicks into the Ofqual register you will see many examples of qualifications titles that are non-compliant.  The Ofqual conditions are very clear about what must be included (Condition E2.1), and a specific EPA example is provided within the EPA level conditions guidance. To add to that, don’t forget to add the version number, if applicable, in accordance with the Ofqual guidance “Where there is a period of time where 2 versions of the EPA overlap on the Register, the awarding organisation must ensure that titles of qualifications on the Register are clear to Users”.

5. Be Clear with Assessment Plan Versions Numbers

Make sure you are very clear across your website, literature, booking / scheduling / contracting / gateway, and assessment tools and materials which assessment plan you are working to, and to summarise the difference from the previous versions where appropriate. For example, I was reviewing an assessment approach of an EpAO and halfway through, I realised that I had been reviewing against the wrong version of the assessment plan, and it was all because there were no details on that EpAOs materials that specified which version of the assessment plan was being used.  Now imagine if I were a customer, confusion such as this could cause significant adverse effects.

6. Make Your Specification Fit For Purpose

I am still seeing examples of specifications that are largely a copy of the assessment plan.  The specification must be much more than that, as detailed within the Conditions (E3), and within the EPA level guidance.  Another point to note is that the specification must be published, I have seen examples of specifications only being issued after the EpAO has been selected, or it being buried in the depths of their website.  However, there is one area worth highlighting that causes confusion and links to my next point below around definitions. 

7. Provide Clear Definitions

There are times when the meaning of a word is different between Ofqual and the assessment plan, and the word ‘specification’ is one. Ofqual is very clear about what is a specification, however, there are several assessment plans that refer to specifications in a different context, the most common being the specification for a test / assessment (equipment, facilities etc). I would therefore recommend that EpAOs are clear on their documentation which is which is which so that it is clear to users and to the regulator.

Another word with a different meaning is the word ’Centre’. Many EpAOs have lots of Centres, meaning that the EpAO operates from several locations using their own staff, venues, and materials to deliver assessment. However, this type of ‘Centre’ is not the same as an Ofqual definition of a ‘Centre’, which is “An organisation undertaking the delivery of an assessment (and potentially other activities) to Learners on behalf of an awarding organisation”.  My advice to EpAOs on this area is to make it clear within their documentation so that is understood by both users and the regulator.

8. Be Consistent

I have seen many different words being used for potentially the same thing across different documents within an EpAO, for example:  (a) learner / apprentice / candidate; (b) EPAO / AO; (c) end-point assessment / qualification. Sadly this is the knock on effect of the transition to Ofqual as they use different terminology to that of assessment plans, the ESFA and IfATE. All I would recommend is that EpAOs either use a single term across their documents, or provide a list of definitions at the start of each document which explains the meaning of each word.

9. Publish your Fees

As part of my work with EpAOs, I carry out a lot of research across EpAO websites, call it nosiness!  Whilst exploring, I have found that there are still many EpAOs who do not publish their fees, despite it being a requirement of the conditions. Under Condition 1.1-1.3 an EpAO is required to publish its fees, make them easily accessible, clear to potential purchasers, and far enough in advance to satisfy planning. To note – Ofqual are currently collecting data on fees, so make sure yours are clear, published, and match your data return (there is a concern that the Ofqual data collection return does not enable EpAOs to report the true range of fees, but I’ll cover that in a separate article).

I hope these are helpful observations, more will follow in a second article next week. If you are interested in finding out more about lessons learnt and good practice, Ofqual did publish a very helpful technical evaluation of assessment materials in 2020 (dated, but still relevant, let’s hope they produce more reports like this soon).  Don’t forget that Ofqual have been adding to their guidance on the criteria and Conditions to aid understanding, and we are now starting to see the release of EpAO related data.

It is also clear from the volume of information requests from Ofqual (in addition to standard data returns) that they are doing a lot of work behind the scenes to research and evaluate the sector. Hopefully, we will also see reports from IfATE given that one of their priority areas for improvement in 2023 was to “Identify and share good practice across EPAOs” and to “support ambitions to increase the dissemination and sharing of good practice and develop assessment capacity and capability across the sector”.

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