This article originally appeared in FE News on 15 March 2019.

Think of the last time you played a board game. Monopoly? Risk? Doesn’t matter. The important thing is that when you played, there were a set of rules that everyone had to follow if they wanted to play.

Knowing the rules to a game lets you participate, and following those rules allows the game to proceed. Without the rules, nothing happens. It’s just a bunch of people sitting at a table, twiddling their thumbs.

In most areas of life, we need rules and guidelines in order to function. Without them, most of us wouldn’t know what to do.

As you can imagine, this applies to many areas of further education. One area where a set of rules is very much needed is in the External Quality Assurance (EQA) to End-Point Assessment (EPA).

Who makes the rules?

A group of people discussing the rules of EQA of EPA

Currently, there is no single regulator of EQA of EPA in England. Instead, when developing an Apprenticeship Standard, Employer and Trailblazer groups determine which category of EQA would be best placed to deliver for their sector:

  • the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education,
  • the Employer group,
  • a professional body,
  • Ofqual or QAA.

As a result, there are more than 25 EQA providers providing quality assurance services for different Apprenticeship Standards.

This sounds like a decent idea on paper. It may, for example, give professional bodies the opportunity to regulate their own sector and promote established best practice. Employers may also like the idea of a sector-specific EQA involved in the quality assurance process of their apprenticeships. However, in practice, this approach has caused many problems.

EQAs assigned to particular Apprenticeship Standards appear siloed off, playing by the rules set for their own sector. And employers are unlikely to be aware of the EQA details unless they understand a very complicated process, which makes the employer-satisfaction argument a moot point.

This approach also makes it difficult for organisations, like EPAOs, who need to work across sectors and with many EQAs while delivering EPA. Consistency is needed, and fast.

EQAs and EPAOs

It can be tough for EPAOs and EQAs to come to terms on the EQA of EPA

Over the last two years, TQUK has delivered EPA for many different Apprenticeship Standards. As a result, we’ve interacted and collaborated with many EQAs across a range of sectors, with wildly varying experiences.

One EQA we engaged with set out to conduct their review of our services in August of last year, yet that review did not happen. After several months of following up, the review took place…in mid-December.

What’s more, the review was only a simple 90-minute on-site visit plus a desk-based review of materials and evidence submitted in August to a tight deadline. As of March 2019, we have still not received any report on that visit.

Some EQAs, however, have been more proactive, undertaking first visits, prioritising their visit schedules based on activity levels of individual EPAOs and sending reports within ten days. We have also had EQAs performing anywhere between these two extremes.

Having a common set of rules that apply to EQAs across sectors would help EQAs, too. At the moment, both EPAOs and EQAs need to prepare for visits and audits while not knowing the timelines or standards against which they’ll be judged.

There are also currently no common approaches across EQAs or other industry regulators. In other cases, EPAOs can receive contradictory advice and feedback from different EQA bodies. For instance, a professional body in one sector may outline that something is accepted industry practice, whereas Ofqual, for example, may not.

Such a situation begs the question: is Ofqual best placed to be an EQA for EPA if they can only apply a one-size-fits-all approach? And, if so, are EQAs being given clear guidance on what exactly their role and remit is?

The awarding sector provides a potentially good example to emulate. When an Awarding Organisation offers an EQA service, they produce a handbook which includes clear details of the systems and processes that the centre is expected to have in place.

This provides a standard framework against which both the Awarding Organisation and centre can work. Such a system could work in the EQA of EPAOs if the framework provides clarity and detail without room for individual interpretation.

A consistent methodology is really important to have in place because it gives EPAOs and EQAs a sense of what the rules are so that they’re not working blind.

Assessment plans

Fixing the EQA of EPA can help create good assessment plans

The fragmented approach to EQA of EPA also affects the creation of high-quality and fit-for-purpose assessment plans by the Institute (previously IfA) and the Trailblazer groups.

TQUK has come across many assessment plans that are not well devised, with unclear direction, over-assessment, the timing of assessment activities and grade descriptors all being on-going issues. In many cases, EPAOs have had to bridge gaps independently to ensure quality benchmarks are being met and that apprentices are receiving a quality assessment process.

EQAs, in theory, are supposed to act as a port of call, or buffer, between EPAOs and Employer groups. If EPAOs have any questions or concerns about assessment plans, they are meant to go through the allocated EQA. Some EQAs fulfil this role well, while others do not provide clear guidance.

In some cases, it is unclear who the allocated EQAs are and no contact details are provided for EPAOs to contact.

Establishing rules outlining what is expected in this area will help EQAs and EPAOs contribute to the development of assessment plans so that mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.

Moving forward

The need for a more integrated approach to EQA of EPA has been recognised by the Institue. They have indicated that they are making moves to implement a new, more detailed framework for EQAs to follow and will emphasise support and guidance for EQAs and EPAOs. We eagerly await the day when there will be more standardisation between EQAs.

In the meantime, TQUK will continue to do everything we can to create a level playing field for all involved.

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To keep up to date with the latest EPA news, return to our blog, or follow us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.

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This is big news for our employers.

On 13 March, Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, revealed in his Spring statement that small and medium-sized enterprises will get a massive boost for their apprenticeship programmes by announcing a £700 million package of reforms, to be implemented in April.

From 1 April, non-levy-paying employers will have their co-investment rate cut from 10% to 5%, halving the financial burden on these organisations.

The cut is meant to incentivise non-levy paying organisations initially put off by the co-investment rate to invest in more apprenticeship programmes.

Since the introduction of the levy and the co-investment rate, employer and learning organisations have called for a reduction in the co-investment rate. Many small businesses were also holding off on starting their own apprenticeship programmes, hoping that the rate would be reduced.

With the rate cut, billions of pounds could be freed up to invest in apprenticeships. 54% of all apprenticeships in England are with non-levy paying employers. This percentage will only grow.

TQUK is delighted by this announcement. The apprenticeship co-investment rate cut removes an obstacle that kept many employers from starting their own apprenticeship programme and investing in the exciting, high-quality apprenticeships they need to take their businesses forward. We are excited to work with employers who will be embarking on their apprenticeship journey.

Check out all the apprenticeships TQUK offers End-Point Assessment for, and visit the Department for Education website for complete details on the funding rules from 1 April 2019.

See you around The Hive!

A good EPA mindset

It can be tricky to get into a good EPA mindset.

End-Point Assessment is the last test, the big cheese, the final frontier. During your EPA, you’ll be tested to make sure you have all the knowledge, skills and behaviours you need to take your career into the stratosphere.

Nerves can get the best of anyone during an assessment, and that’s normal! We could give you some general tips on keeping a positive mindset during your EPA: eat well, make sure you’re fully rested and don’t be afraid to take a break when you’re revising to clear your mind.

But we love to go above and beyond here at TQUK EPA. So, we scoured the internet to find out unique ways our apprentices can get into an optimal EPA mindset and completely own their EPA. Enjoy!

Review early, and often

Everyone knows that you should review your work before you go into a test. That’s obvious. What most people don’t consider is when they should do it.

Rather than having a massive cram session the night before, it’s far better to break up your review sessions throughout your apprenticeship. Every two or three weeks, try to take a few hours to review what you’ve done and see if there are any gaps in your knowledge, skills and behaviours that you need to fill. Reviewing the Apprenticeship Standards for you apprenticeship is a great way to do this. The Apprenticeship Standards contain your assessment plan and a detailed list of all the criteria you need to meet to get the highest mark possible.

To find the full Apprenticeship Standard for your apprenticeship, go to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education website and search for your apprenticeship title. It’s as easy as that!

While reviewing areas of improvement early and often requires diligence and willpower, constantly reviewing will help you retain and improve your knowledge and skills. By taking bits of time throughout your apprenticeship to review areas in your knowledge and skills that are lacking, you can make the necessary adjustments and go into your final assessment confident and ready.

Read your notes…backwards

Not only is this a fun exercise, but it can also give you new insight into your job role.

If you’re revising for a knowledge test, reading over any notes you have can actually be unproductive. As many people read their notes from start to finish, they can start to remember, generally, the order in which they wrote things and stop paying attention and retaining useful information.

By reading your notes backwards, they’ll be taken out of their original context, and as a result, you’ll pay more attention and think more about what you wrote.

Power Stance!

At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told to stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Depending on the context, this isn’t necessarily a way of people correcting your posture. When you stand up straight, you become larger and take up more space. In many ways, you appear more powerful.

Your brain can often take cues about how to think from your body. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between confident postures and improved outlook. Having a confident posture helps to modulate your brain’s response to your thoughts, making it more accepting of good thoughts and more dismissive of bad thoughts. In a 2010 study, researchers found that people who strike so-called ‘power poses’ experience increased testosterone levels and lowered levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.

So, just before you take your assessment, stand up straight, strike a power stance and you’ll have all the confidence of a rock star!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through meditation or other kinds of training. It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it. Mindfulness can be useful because it helps you draw attention away from the chatter in your head.

Mindfulness practices have been employed by psychologists to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and have even been used to treat drug addiction. People who practice mindfulness are better able to manage stress, handle complex situations and tend to have reduced levels of anxiety.

Think about going into your Culinary Challenge or Project Presentation totally centred and ready to take on whatever comes your way. That’d be pretty useful, right?

Check out these mindfulness apps to help get you into a good EPA mindset.

Find a puppy

Therapy animals have long played a role in hospitals and care homes to help people get better and bring some cute positivity into their lives. There’s something about the presence of animals that fills people with an inexpressible joy.

Many universities and colleges across the world have already discovered the benefits of having puppy rooms to help their students de-stress. And if it can work for them, it can work for you.

So the next time you’re feeling too nervous to sit still, take some quality time with your favourite animal, borrow a friend’s pet or visit your local pet shop for some of that sweet puppy love. A visit should be sure to quiet those nerves and put you in a more positive mindset to smash your EPA!

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What are your EPA de-stressing strategies? Share them with us!

To keep up to date with the latest EPA news, return to our blog, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

See you around The Hive!

How TQUK Can Help You

The new apprenticeship standards are designed to improve upon what’s gone before and help with the apprentice’s initial journey into their chosen career, before you know it, they’ll be on the road to success.

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