Apprenticeships in England are changing, with the aim of improving the quality and credibility of the opportunities for apprentices of all ages and at all levels.
There are many elements to get right with new apprenticeships, including defining clearly what an apprentice should be learning and designing appropriate assessments to test the knowledge, skills and behaviours apprentices are expected to develop.
Ofqual is already focussing more of its attention and resources on vocational and technical qualifications – and in the new apprenticeships world, we are just one of the bodies with a role. We bring experience and expertise in assessment and regulation, and we are committed to using this to ensure that, where we are involved, we are satisfied that assessments within apprenticeships are consistent and of high quality.
The important thing here though is not the action of any one body. With many organisations involved it is important that we work together to achieve our aims.
With the introduction of a new approach to assessing apprenticeships – the end-point assessment, or EPA – there is also a new focus on how valid assessment can be achieved. An EPA must be delivered by an approved apprentice assessment organisation – a body independent to the one that has delivered an apprentice’s training. We believe this independence is an important step for securing more valid assessment and giving more assurance to users.
For EPA outcomes to also be reliable and consistent between assessment organisations, apprenticeships must have ‘external quality assurance’, or EQA, in place. To provide flexibility in response to the differing needs of employers, there are four overarching EQA options. Ofqual is one of these, along with professional bodies, selected groups of employers and, where these are not viable, the Institute for Apprenticeships.
Trailblazers might choose us as their preferred EQA option because, as I have said, we have the assessment expertise and regulatory tools and powers in place to underpin apprenticeship assessment quality. You can see explanation of our approach to providing EQA on our website.
The other EQA options do not offer similar scope of quality assurance, but we know trailblazers may see value in one of the alternatives. Employers, for example, are well-placed to identify the knowledge, skills and behaviours that apprenticeships need to have – although they do not necessarily have the relevant experience in assessment.
As such, we are also exploring how professional bodies or other groups of employers can draw on our expertise, regulatory framework and statutory powers. We see a real opportunity to develop meaningful partnerships with them that bring together sector knowledge and assessment expertise to deliver high-quality assurance.
One benefit of selecting Ofqual as EQA, or of another EQA provider partnering with us, is that for us to provide EQA of EPAs, we require an apprentice assessment organisation to be formally recognised by us as an ‘awarding organisation’. This means they have been subject to a series of rigorous checks, and once recognised, will then be subject to our established regulatory framework.
It’s also worth noting that where an EPA is offered by a recognised awarding organisation, and it falls within the scope of their recognition, we will still regulate that EPA, no matter who is providing EQA. In doing so, we will provide the same degree of quality assurance to EPAs that we give to the qualifications we regulate. We think that this level of assurance is critical to supporting the credibility of apprenticeships.
Navigating the system
We know that confidence and trust in standards is driven by evidence and understanding. All users of apprenticeships must have a clear understanding of the relationship between employer-defined apprenticeship standards, assessment plans and EPAs, and evidence that assessment standards have been established appropriately.
The Institute for Apprenticeships, which will launch in April, has a clear role in making this happen, and we are working ever closer with them to support their vision for high quality, credible apprenticeships that will deliver the skilled workforce demanded by employers.
The apprenticeship landscape must be clear and easy to navigate; this is essential if we are to enable apprentices, employers and those involved in developing and delivering apprenticeships to understand and use the system effectively and with confidence. The Institute recently consulted on its draft Operational Plan, and we articulated this need for clarity at the time.
The Institute has a leading role here. Its ability to draw on and utilise the knowledge and experience of employers and industry experts, as well as other experts in the apprenticeships system, is going to be key to driving up the quality and relevance of apprenticeships.
For our part, we’re committed to working with the Institute in ensuring that assessment of apprentices is consistent and of high quality, and to partnering with industry on EQA to bring together a wealth of expertise for the good of apprenticeships. If you want more information about how we regulate, or are interested in partnering with us, then do get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executive Director, Vocational and Technical Qualifications