21/11/2018 - Posted in: Blogs
Terry Fennell - Chief Executive
The introduction of end-point assessment (EPA) into the apprenticeship market in 2016 represented an upheaval of seismic proportions for many in the further education and skills awarding sector. With a shrinking qualifications market, EPA represents an important opportunity to diversify into a new business area. So, it should come as no surprise that many awarding bodies, and indeed other trade and educational bodies, responded with a gusto bordering on hysteria. Many submitted applications for a multitude of standards. Within a matter of months shiny new websites emerged declaring expertise in EPA and long lists of approved standards, across a broad range of occupational areas.
But is all what it seems? Under that shiny new bonnet is everything running smoothly in the engine room? Having supported the ‘trailblazer’ employer group to get the first food craft apprenticeship (the Butchery Standard) to government approval, I know what it takes to bring an apprenticeship to market. And having had one of the first food end-point assessment plans approved and delivered 50-odd EPAs I also know what’s involved in developing a fair and robust end-point assessment. It takes time to develop the right assessment tools, the support systems for training providers and to recruit suitably experienced independent assessors. Many organisations, we included, will face capacity and expertise challenges in gearing up to provide an EPA service.
Yet I see from the November register of approved end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) that the ESFA now has 175 organisations listed. Many of these organisations proclaim to offer EPAs for a myriad of standards. This is despite having no previous track record nor occupational expertise in the area. How can that be? Well they can do it because the ESFA allows 12 months from approval of an EPA application to launch date. And without any firm system in place for enforcement, the ’12-month rule’ may be being stretched somewhat. Put simply, despite the website pronouncements, for some EPAOs their EPA approvals lists may be little more than a hopeful declaration of intent.
Why am I raising this now?
I’m raising this for two reasons.
Firstly, because end-point assessment is a brand concept demanding high levels of up-front investment but with no guarantee of return. The market for EPAs is highly speculative with hitherto uncertainty for take-up. This has recently been recognised by Government, who in an effort to persuade smaller employers to take on apprentices have halved the employer contribution from 10% to 5%. In return, we as EPAO’s should respect the considerable investment employers are making by giving them a high quality, value for money EPA service.
Secondly, and as importantly, the apprentice’s futures are at stake here. So, we have a responsibility; to give them our very best quality-assured service and help set them on their future career path with confidence. This means developing each EPA with a great deal of care, and collaboration with subject experts. And that can’t be done overnight.
At FDQ we pride ourselves on doing the right thing. For end-point assessment this means applying for food related standards we know we’ll be able to deliver, and in a reasonable time-scale. It means investing in the right people and systems to manage our EPA business and provide the high level of service you and your apprentices have a right to expect. And it also means when you look on our website you won’t see dozens of standards we’re ‘approved’ to deliver EPA for – because we only apply when we’re able to begin developing the tools. It’s a brave new world for all of us, but one that it’s vital we get right.
Given that end-point assessment is new for all of us, how can you avoid the pitfall of choosing an EPAO who might not be ready when your apprentice has completed their apprenticeship? Well, there’s a lot to be said for asking the right questions. Take these 5 for starters:
1. What support materials will they provide to the centres?
2. Can they guarantee the industry experience of the Independent Assessor and that they have received training in judgement making?
3. Will you and colleagues be able to talk to someone at HQ on the EPA requirements and cover wider aspects such as fees policies and contracts?
4. Will they be prepared to visit the employer, provider and learner in the weeks leading up to the EPA?
5. Can they guarantee that all safety precautions and PPE will be adhered to at EPA?
If your chosen EPA organisation can answer ‘Yes’ to all of these, things are looking promising. Just like buying a new car, when you’re looking for an end-point assessment organisation my advice to you is - look under the bonnet.