Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

In my article last week “Cutting through the fog: Ofqual for EpAOs”, I said I would write a more detailed article on end-point assessment organisation (#EpAO) collaboration.

Collaboration between EpAOs has always existed, bringing some real benefits for apprentices, employers, and for sector best practice.

More recently, the need for EpAOs to gain Ofqual recognition, and the associated ‘fear’ of the Ofqual recognition process across many of the smaller EpAOs, has led to increasing amounts of discussion around collaboration between EpAOs.

Collaboration is a good thing, and is always worth supporting and encouraging. However, I have sadly seen and heard evidence of messaging that does not provide a full picture. These are not messages from the ESFA, Ofqual or IfATE, but from organisations in the EpAO sector, and they are messages which could lead EpAOs to make ill informed decisions about their future.

One such example is “If you collaborate with us [an Ofqual recognised Awarding Organisation] you do not need to gain Ofqual recognition”. Whilst there is nothing technically incorrect about this message (there are ways in which an organisation may remain involved in EPA without being recognised by Ofqual), what this message fails to mention is that if the EpAO does not gain Ofqual recognition, they will not be able to remain on the ESFA register of EpAOs and operate as an EpAO in their own right.

So, how can you remain involved in end-point assessment without requiring Ofqual recognition?

In accordance with the ESFA Conditions for EpAOs, section 3.5, EpAOs are not permitted to contract out EPA to another organisation to deliver on their behalf (although they may use contracted assessors who may be self-employed or drawn from other organisations to support your delivery of EPA).

This means that an EpAO cannot contract another organisation to deliver on their behalf, but they can work (collaborate) with other organisations to support their delivery. In doing this they must be mindful of Condition 6.8 “You must not collude with other EPAOs, providers, employers or any other organisation in the delivery of EPA”.

An Ofqual recognised EpAO (awarding organisation) can operate ‘third party’ or ‘centre’ agreements whereby another organisation may be involved in the design and / or delivery of the end-point assessment. For example:

  • a ‘third party’ agreement whereby another organisation provides specialist sector expertise to an awarding organisation, such as the design, testing, or review of assessment tools and materials.
  • a ‘Centre’ agreement whereby another organisation is involved in assessment delivery. It is worth noting that the ability to use ‘centres’ for assessment delivery, does not override the ESFA Conditions preventing the contracting out of delivery, it just means that where other organisations are involved in supporting the delivery of assessment, they are classed as a ‘centre’ and must abide by/operate within Ofqual Condition C2.

Essentially what this means is that an organisation can continue to be involved in the design and / or delivery of end-point assessment without becoming Ofqual recognised, by becoming a ‘third party’ or ‘centre’ of an existing Ofqual approved EpAO (awarding organisation). But it would not be able to continue as an EpAO in its own right, because without Ofqual recognition it will be removed from the ESFA register of EpAOs.

Having had conversations with quite a few EpAOs, who are not currently recognised by Ofqual, about options for their future, I thought I would share some pros and cons to hopefully enable EpAOs to make a more informed decision about their future. As with all my articles, they are my personal thoughts and ideas designed to try and help:

Applying for and gaining Ofqual recognition:

Pros

  1. you can still collaborate with other EpAOs.
  2. provides a good opportunity to review all your processes and procedures to ensure they are the best they can be;
  3. enables you to remain on the ESFA register of EpAOs;
  4. a recognised mark of quality for awarding;
  5. enables you to retain your own branding;
  6. enables you to retain your own decision making;

Cons – some may feel that the Ofqual requirements are too onerous or burdensome for their organisation, especially where perhaps, they only ever wish to end-point assess one or 2 standards.

Choosing not to apply for Ofqual recognition, and instead to collaborate with an existing Ofqual approved EpAO (awarding organisation):

Pros

  1. you can still be involved in the design and/or delivery of end-point assessment by collaborating with an Ofqual recognised awarding organisation via ‘third party’ or ‘centre’ agreements;
  2. reduced bureaucracy - the requirements of the ESFA and Ofqual rest with the organisation that is Ofqual recognised and on the ESFA register of EpAOs
  3. If you are a sector specialist organisation, your sector expertise may well be valuable to an Ofqual recognised awarding organisation when designing their assessment tools/materials and/or delivering end-point assessment;
  4. you can pick and choose your level of involvement; you don’t have to do it all. For example, you may prefer just to be involved in assessment tool design, testing or review, as opposed to assessment delivery.

Cons

  1. you will no longer be a recognised EpAO and will not be able to deliver end-point assessment in your own right;
  2. you will not be able to use your branding as part of the end-point assessment service, it will be that of the Ofqual recognised awarding organisation. However, I have seen circumstances where an Ofqual recognised EpAO has said “we are proud to be working in collaboration with xxx to design the end-point assessment of xxx apprenticeship”;
  3. Employers cannot select you; they select the Ofqual recognised awarding organisation;
  4. your level of involvement and work will be determined by that of the Ofqual recognised awarding organisation and written into a ‘third party’ or ‘centre’ agreement.

I hope my article has been of use, it is certainly not a definitive list, but hopefully will help EpAOs who are currently considering their next steps. Please do not forget that the ESFA and Ofqual run many webinars and are happy to respond to questions or queries you may have.

If you are thinking of leaving the ESFA register of EpAOs, please remember to contact the ESFA directly and as early as possible, so to minimise any potential disruption to apprentices. This can be done via your portal or by emailing the ESFA. The ESFA has a process for withdrawal, as detailed in their conditions section 14.

Jacqui Molkenthin, JEML Consulting

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