In July the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education published its highly anticipated and long sought after EQA framework. An attempt to standardise the activities of numerous EQA bodies and improve consistency in practice across the developing End-Point Assessment and Apprenticeship sector, there’s just one problem…

Any regard to the implementation of change to assessment plans is sorely lacking, writes End-Point Assessment Director Kelle McQuade.

As we all start to get to grips with what the EQA framework means in practice, it seems that much of the spotlight is on the readiness position of individual End-Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) and not much more.

Of particular focus is our ability as an EPAO to deliver consistent, high-quality assessment through occupationally competent assessors via well-developed assessment materials. No arguments from us here, but how about we make sure we can ably do this and all EPAOs have the right environment to do so. Currently, we don’t.

We all expect change, it’s an inevitability of an evolving sector and one that is common to the education sector as a whole. But as assessment plans go through the process of being updated, via formal review processes or responses from Employer groups and wider sector parties, direction or even consistent advice about how this process should be undertaken is absent.

The majority of the focus when changes to assessment plans are being discussed is centered on the apprentice, and rightly so. A key example here is the question surrounding an apprentice who has already started their learning, should they continue to be assessed against the old version of the plan, or switch to the new one when a revised assessment plan has been issued? They have the ability to choose, more on that later.

There appears to be little consideration given to the impact of change on EPAOs and our readiness position. Significant cost goes into developing and maintaining robust assessment instruments and we are not being supported enough to ensure we can continue operating efficiently and effectively with proposed and actual assessment plan changes.

Change is often a necessity to ensure a fit for purpose product is live on the market but as such, change needs to be orchestrated carefully and planned from every perspective, plain and simple. This is even more apparent, you would think, when we hold in our hands the education and development of so many thousands of apprentices.

We have historically found ourselves in a situation, as I’m sure many others have, whereby invoices to subject experts have been signed off for the development of assessment materials to not only find out hours later that the goal posts have moved, the plan has been updated on the Institute’s website and that particular assessment component no longer features. Forget about the goal posts, we’re at the wrong playing field.

Presently, communication of any change to assessment plans is being shared once they have been updated and ready to use. This is damaging to our reputation as an EPAO as we are unable to provide timely updates to those Training Providers and Employers who work with us and rely on our support in communicating change. This leads in to the supply of updated support materials and assessor support.

Current levels of inconsistent advice being what they are, when a plan gets updated any apprentice who has already commenced on that standard can “choose” which assessment plan to be assessed against with no further guidance. This is incredibly challenging for EPAOs.

As stated above, significant cost and time goes into developing all required assessment and support materials for each standard and outside of that there is a need to ensure that assessors are adequately trained and assessment standardisation takes place. The standards themselves indicate annual reviews of assessment materials must take place; this results in duplication of all such processes and additional fees when an assessment plan has been amended.

And as if this isn’t all strenuous enough, ‘interim’ assessment plans have now been added to the mix, do I really need to say anymore?

In some instances, this is marginally ahead of formal reviews and during assessment plan rewrites, meaning that these interim plans and changes would only be live for a few short months before EPAOs are asked to repeat the cycle of development, standardisation and training, again.

In the end, it could potentially mean that three plans are live for apprentices and employers to select from! Worse still this could find some EPAOs withdrawing from delivery due to unsustainable development costs. An outcome that none of us want to see.

All this leaves us with the following questions unanswered:

  • When is it appropriate and timely to share with registered EPAOs that assessment plans are being reviewed/revised by Trailblazer groups and potential changes could be forthcoming?
  • What are the engagement opportunities for EPAOs during this review period/ process?
  • When revised plans are signed off by the Institute, what is the timeframe by which EQAs are required to inform registered EPAOs? (the new framework indicates this as their role but no timeframe specified)
  • When new plans get published is there a given time by which approved EPAOs must be ready to deliver by, taking into account revisions to assessment materials as well as Assessor training and standardisation?
  • When new plans are published would it be appropriate to include and publish such dates as First Registrations or Assessment on the new plan to ensure consistency of when apprentices are being assessed or Last Assessment dates on the old plan? (Likened to regulated qualification model which detail such dates)
  • How would such dates support EPAOs to develop/update assessment instruments inclusive of support/ mock assessment materials to effectively support apprentice preparations?
  • If there is a cross over a period when dual plans are operationally active – who determines which plan is to be used – is this time-bound or employer choice?
  • Are EPAOs given the option to pause their status to allow development time against the new assessment plans?
  • Is there an opportunity for EPAOs to opt to withdraw themselves against the register in light of the new assessment plans if they feel it is no longer cost-effective? or can they pause registrations in order to allow development time?
  • Are registered EPAOs required to undertake additional readiness check to demonstrate their status against the revised plan?

Our concerns and questions have been raised with the Institute and the Education and Skills Funding Agency and we will continue to do so until we receive the appropriate response. Currently, there has been a single acknowledgement email, no advice or formal response is being given.

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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