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Giving confidence to apprentices, employers and society

Comment piece by Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

The Government embarked on reform of apprenticeships in 2013 with the objective of providing young people and re-skilling adults with an apprenticeship programme for all industry sectors from Level 2 to Level 6 and in some cases beyond.

By doing this the UK was the first economy in the world to attempt to cover all sectors with apprenticeship entry and progression routes. An ambition which addresses the major skills challenges posed by the digital/AI economy.

Critical to success is that apprentices, employers and society must have confidence in ‘quality’. The employer must have confidence in the person they are appointing and the successful apprentice must have confidence in themselves. Also important will be guaranteeing equality of access to apprenticeships for all in our society so we can tap into a diverse range of talent.

Apprenticeship independent end-point assessment (EPA) was enshrined in Government legislation; underpinned by the valid assessment instruments. A significant number of Independent end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) have now been approved by the ESFA. To audit these EPAOs the Government allowed employers to decide who would be the external quality assurance providers (EQAPs).

Whilst welcoming employers’ input on EQA, in practice there has been issues of overall consistency and efficiency. The approval to be an EPAO has had similar issues. But I’m delighted to say that the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education’s (the Institute’s) new common EQA Framework, published on 26 June, provides the platform for giving apprentices, employers and society the confidence needed.

As Sir Gerry says in his introduction:
We will establish and sustain an evidence-led and effective EQA service that drives-up the quality of end-point assessments through continuous improvement. EQA will elevate the reputation of apprenticeships in England, reassuring society, and particularly employers, that apprenticeships are high-quality and credible, and those who complete an apprenticeship are occupationally competent.

We can all agree with the EQA Framework’s 5 key principles – Relevant, Reliable, Efficient, Positive and Learning.

There is clarity across all sectors of how monitoring will be undertaken in an efficient and effective way and what is expected of EPAOs. There is also a mechanism for resolving differences and conflicts.

As a leading education and skills charity, focused on helping learners and apprentices to reach their potential, NOCN particularly welcomes section 6, which provides for feedback on assessment plans. Keeping these up to date through the ‘maintenance’ process will be critical as technological change keeps endlessly rolling on.

For the first time assessing bodies (EPAOs) will themselves be graded on a four-point scale. The audits undertaken by the EQAPs will be based on a risk assessment, which starts when the EPAO goes on the Register. Not a bad thing for the assessors to also be independently assessed! NOCN believes this mechanism will help to drive up quality in apprenticeships, resulting in improved confidence.

We should all welcome this new framework and support the Institute in making it work for the apprentices, the employers, families and the economy. It is a great step forward.