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Overseeing external quality assurance of apprenticeships

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An important aspect of the reform of apprenticeships is the end point assessment (EPA).

The EPA is undertaken by an independent assessment organisation. Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations (AAOs) are responsible for designing, administering and marking assessments. Apprenticeship standards can have more than one registered AAO – indeed a small number have as many as 18. The ESFA publishes a Register of Apprentice Assessment Organisations (RoAAO) on GOV.UK here.

We need to ensure that apprentices will be assessed consistently and fairly regardless of the AAO chosen by their employer. AAOs all have systems for controlling the quality of their assessments. These systems are known as Internal Quality Assurance (IQA). IQA involves ensuring that assessors are qualified and trained, that grading is applied consistently and that assessment instruments such as test questions or practical tasks are robust.

But, how do we makes sure that AAOs all work to a high standard and that an apprentice who has been assessed by one AAO would get the same result had another AAO conducted the assessment? And how do we know that the apprenticeship Standard is actually delivering the outcomes that we need? That is where External Quality Assurance (EQA) comes in.

EQA monitors the performance of different AAOs and the effectiveness of the apprenticeship standard and assessment plan; checking it is reliable, rigorous and fit-for-purpose.

The Institute as an EQA provider

The Institute for Apprenticeships has two important roles in the provision of EQA. Firstly, the Institute will act as a provider of EQA, where necessary. It is one of four options that a trailblazer can choose to deliver EQA for a standard:

  • an employer led model
  • a professional body
  • Ofqual
  • the Institute for Apprenticeships

The Institute has contracted a third party to undertake this work for 2017-18 and we announced on 2 August 2017 that Open Awards would be undertaking this work on our behalf.

The Institute overseeing EQA

Secondly, the Institute has a role overseeing EQA across all EQA providers to ensure quality, consistency and credibility. The Institute has produced Guidance for these organisations on what EQA should cover. This is set out in Annex F of How to develop an apprenticeship standard: guide for trailblazers. Further support is being developed and we will review this periodically. This is to make sure that the EQA process remains fit-for-purpose and is giving us the information we need.

The main stages of EQA

  1. The trailblazer chooses one of the four EQA options when designing the apprenticeship assessment plan. This is confirmed with the specific organisation they want to use.
  2. If an employer-led group or professional body is selected the Institute will contact the organisation. We will then ask for them to set out their EQA process, using a series of questions to do that.
  3. When we are content that the approach outlined can provide the necessary assurance of rigour and comparability of assessment. We will issue a letter recognising the body as the EQA provider for a particular standard (or standards).
  4. From that point the EQA provider will undertake a range of monitoring activity and will report on the consistency of assessment across the standard.

Ofqual's approach to providing EQA for apprenticeships can be found here. Trailblazers who want to choose Ofqual as their EQA provider should read the document so they understand the process and any requirements.

What does it all mean?

There may be a range of actions coming out of EQA activity. It may be that the EQA provider is able to report that the delivery of assessment across a standard is robust, credible and consistent. Or, they may note areas for improvement and agree an action plan with the AAO. The Institute may instigate a formal review where there are serious concerns.

The Institute’s Quality Assurance Committee will review EQA reports from all EQA providers (including the Institute’s). This Committee is made up of Institute board members, independent assessment experts and senior Institute staff. It makes recommendations about what action (if any) should be taken.

EQA has an important role in ensuring that quality in apprenticeship assessments are maintained and improved. This is all part of building a world-class apprenticeship system that benefits employers, apprentices and the UK as a whole.

If you would like to offer apprenticeships, current Apprenticeship standards are published on along with their assessment plans and funding bands. For employers you can also use to find apprenticeship training.

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