End-point assessment (EPA) is one of the key aspects of apprenticeship standards – providing a robust and independent test that an apprentice who completes their apprenticeship is fully occupationally competent.
Given the importance of EPA, it is vital that employers and apprentices have confidence that it is delivered to a high standard and consistently across different end-point assessment organisations (EPAO). The quality assurance regime around EPA is crucial.
But EPA is fundamentally different to previous systems. It requires holistic catch-all assessment at the end of the apprenticeship delivered by an independent EPAO - as opposed to continuous, on-programme assessment that was previously delivered by a training provider acting as a centre for an awarding organisation. And a different assessment model needs a different quality assurance regime.
That’s why the Enterprise Act 2016 tasked the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute) to oversee an external quality assurance (EQA) regime for EPA.
The organisation that will undertake EQA for a specific standard is chosen by the employers from that occupation when they develop the standard. This ensures that it is an organisation with credibility in the sector that will give employers confidence that EQA, and therefore EPA, is robust. But with multiple quality assurance bodies it is vital that they’re all singing from the same hymn-sheet.
The Institute has now published a framework for EQA. This sets out what good practice in EPA looks like, and what EQA providers will look for in order to gain assurance that it has happened. This should mean greater clarity for EPAOs and EQA providers, and more consistency across different providers of EQA.
The framework sets out - for the first time - the approach that will be taken to readiness once an EPAO is on the official Register of EPAOs.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency(ESFA) will check EPAOs’ preparations in the initial months after they are accepted on the Register, and the EQA provider for the standard in question will then undertake a standard-specific readiness check with a go/no-go decision about whether the EPAO is ready to deliver assessment.
After the readiness check, ongoing monitoring kicks in. The framework describes the detail of what EQA providers will be looking for and how they will look for it.
Ensuring EPA is delivered effectively
Three things are key. Firstly, occupational knowledge. Robust EQA will best be undertaken by people who understand the occupation and can tell whether the assessment is not just reliable, but also relevant to current practice in that occupation. Secondly, the need for ‘boots on the ground’. EQA can’t just be done from a desk, it will rely to a significant degree on seeing how assessments are being undertaken in a variety of settings.
Thirdly, the need for EQA to be standard specific. This does mean that EPAOs with a portfolio of standards across multiple sectors will be subject to multiple EQA visits. We have aimed to reduce the reporting burden on these EPAOs as much as possible by sharing data and organisational information about EPAOs across EQA organisations, to stop EPAOs needing to provide the same information to multiple bodies (and alongside the EQA framework we are developing a digital system which will better allow the Institute and EQA providers to do this).
But the fact that an EPAO is effectively delivering a multiple-choice test on the Retailer standard doesn’t give us assurance that that same EPAO can deliver a workplace observation on the Electrical Power Network Engineer standard. EQA will need to look at both, and take judgements on both separately.
As I said at the start of this blog, EPA is different to other assessments. In developing the framework we’ve drawn on best practice from Ofqual, Ofsted, awarding organisations’ EQA and other quality assurance and regulatory regimes. But we have also tried to do something different to meet the needs of a new assessment regime, and give employers, apprentices and government confidence that EPA is delivering effectively.
You can find the new EQA framework on the Institute's website.