End-point assessment organisations (EpAOs) are subject to external quality assurance (EQA), and there are currently 4 types of EQA provider (employer led, professional body, Ofqual or the IfATE). The recent IfATE Consultation proposes that all EQA is delivered by Ofqual for non-integrated degree apprenticeships, and by the Office for Students (OfS) for integrated degree apprenticeships.
For those standards EQA’d by Ofqual, the organisation must be approved under the Ofqual Conditions of Recognition before they can become an EpAO for the standard. In the current world of EQA, this means that there are 75 standards approved for delivery that have Ofqual as their EQA provider (14% of all standards approved for delivery). If the consultation proposals are to be accepted, there would be a total of 505 non-integrated degree standards currently approved for delivery, and a further 104 in development, that would be EQA’d by Ofqual. There are currently 290 approved EpAOs on the ESFA register of EpAOs.
I have worked with a number of EpAOs looking to progress towards Ofqual recognition, and during this time I have encountered the full spectrum of perspectives on the Ofqual recognition process from EpAOs going through the journey. These have ranged from rigorous and responsive all the way through to bureaucratic, confusing, burdensome, complex, lengthy, and ill-fitting to end-point assessment. With such wide-ranging perspectives, I wanted to understand more about the views of EpAOs on the Ofqual recognition process, so I carried out a survey of EpAOs asking 4 key questions:- (1) if they have applied for recognition, their experiences; (2) if they have not applied for recognition, their reasons why; (3) if they have not applied for recognition, what would encourage them to apply; and (4) if they were to apply for recognition, what type of support would be most valuable.
The Survey was completed by 50 EpAOs in June 2020 (32% assessed 1 standard, 30% assessed 2 to 3 standards, 28% assessed 4-9 standards and 10% assessed 10 or more standards). Of the EpAOs, 10% were already Ofqual approved, 14% had applied to Ofqual, 6% were in the process of applying to Ofqual, 34% had not applied to Ofqual but are planning to, and 26% had no plans to apply to Ofqual for recognition.
For those that were approved, had applied, or were applying to Ofqual, the survey asked for their experiences on access to information and guidance, user-friendliness of the conditions, the provision of support, the timeframes from application to decision, and Ofqual feedback on their decision. The survey results indicated that for those that had applied there was a much higher percentage of responses in the ‘poor’ category compared to those that are already approved and those that are currently in the process of applying. This particularly related to the feedback on the decision and the provision of support for questions or queries. Survey comments indicated a range of factors for their rating, including terminology that did not fit end-point assessment (eg, Ofqual use the term qualification instead of end-point assessment, and awarding organisation instead of EpAO), requirements that were not possible for micro EpAOs, too many documents to navigate and understand, and the length of the process.
For those EpAOs that had not applied for Ofqual recognition 57% cited time and resource as being the key reason for not applying, which may be explained by the size of many EpAOs. Around half of respondents said that a key reason for not applying was because Ofqual recognition as not required for the apprenticeships they end-point assess, although interestingly 43% of EpAOs that completed the survey said that there were standards they wished to end-point assess that they were currently unable to because they were not Ofqual approved. Around half of respondents said that bureaucracy (perceived and actual) was a key reason for not applying for Ofqual recognition. Some comments indicated that EpAOs were unsure what would be the added value of gaining Ofqual recognition.
EpAOs were then asked what would encourage them to apply for Ofqual recognition. Unsurprisingly, the majority of responses indicated that it would be if it was mandated by IfATE. Away from the policy drivers a key reason that would make them decide to apply was a simpler application process. Interestingly the badge of recognition from Ofqual recognition, and the ability to use the Ofqual logo was not a key influencer in whether or not they would decide to apply for Ofqual recognition.
Finally, EpAOs were asked, if they were to apply for Ofqual recognition, what support they would value the most. What came across very clearly in the response is that EpAOs want to have a voice. A staggering 90% of respondents said they would value an Ofqual steering group dedicated to EPA with representatives from micro, small and large EpAOs on the group. In addition, 95% of respondents said they would value examples of best practice approaches to each of the criteria, and 90% said that they would value case studies from EpAOs that have been through the recognition process.
Based on the survey results I have some recommendations for Ofqual that may ultimately lead to EpAOs aspiring to apply for, and gain Ofqual recognition:
- A simpler application process (maybe through clearer/consolidated documents), with clear explanations of the benefits of Ofqual recognition (not just a requirement), and language and terminology appropriate to apprenticeships and end-point assessment
- Clearer messaging on the level of bureaucracy involved (perceived bureaucracy is creating as much as a barrier as actual bureaucracy)
- Review the appropriateness of the Ofqual conditions to apprenticeship end-point assessment now that some EpAOs have been through the Ofqual recognition process
- Consider a staggered approach to recognition, in bite sized chunks to make it manageable for smaller EpAOs
- Develop case studies from EpAOs that have been though the Ofqual recognition process (those that are solely EpAOs, and those that are already awarding organisations)
- Engage with EpAOs to give them a meaningful voice (on the conditions themselves as well as the applications requirements / processes). By doing this EpAOs will feel listened to and become more engaged, and they will develop broader and greater understanding of the Ofqual processes and recognitions
Readers may have their own interpretations and recommendations from the survey results, which his absolutely fine, so long as it stimulates positive debate, and brings organisations together to recognise achievements, overcome challenges and enable apprenticeships and the associated end-point assessment to thrive. You can access the full survey report here.
One last question on the survey related to what EpAOs most value from their EQA provider, the results have been written in a separate article which can be accessed here.
Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting
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If you are interested in any of my other articles about end-point assessment, they can be accessed via these links: