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Making apprenticeship assessment work during Covid-19

12 June 2020

The Institute’s priority throughout has been to protect the safety and welfare of apprentices and all those working in the sector. A close second has been to maintain the delivery of apprenticeships and T Levels without compromising quality or integrity. For apprenticeships, this is allowing apprentices to continue and commence an apprenticeship, including taking their end point assessments (EPA) where it is feasible. In a number of assessment settings, the direction of travel has been to replace assessment with a moderated calculation of grades by teachers and trainers. This will happen in GCSEs and A-levels this summer, and also in a range of vocational qualifications overseen by Ofqual. There were several reasons this wasn’t the right approach for apprenticeships and EPA. A Levels, GCSEs and some technical qualifications are a key rung on the educational ladder, usually undertaken at a specific age – and by all learners in the country at the same time. University or college selection relies on these grades being available at the right time, so there is an imperative to make the compromise of a moderated calculation to keep the system and learners going. An apprenticeship stands alone as a job with training. The training and development provided is individually tailored with EPA taken at an appropriate time to confirm an individual programme of learning has been completed and the apprentice is occupationally competent. In many cases, the conclusion of an apprenticeship amounts to a licence to practice which, in turn, has significant life-time safety and responsibility implications. EPA also works to protect quality apprenticeships for both apprentices and employers and to estimate it would undermine that – which is also why some of the Vocational Technical Qualifications regulated by Ofqual are not being estimated too. We have, instead, focused on finding ways for EPAs to be delivered more flexibly where this can be done without compromising the integrity and quality of the assessment. In the first instance we permitted flexibilities in how EPA can be delivered whilst maintaining the same assessment methods – for example, allowing workplace observations to be conducted remotely using video software, or allowing tests to be sat by apprentices at home, using remote proctoring technology. Around 80 flexibilities of this nature have been approved to date, which are being delivered through the network of external quality assurance (EQA) providers, professional bodies and employer groups who work on our behalf to monitor the quality of EPA delivery. It has also been apparent, however, that there were some standards where even these sorts of flexibilities would not work, and we needed to take a more radical approach to make EPA deliverable. In such instances, we have brought together sector-specific taskforces, including employers, Institute officials, the EQA provider, end-point assessment organisations, to work through the challenges of the EPA in their area of expertise. The employers have always included an employer Trailblazer group representative. These proposals are then signed off by our relevant route panel of industry experts to ensure further employer oversight of the change. To maintain the level of quality, we have developed specific criteria – it is essential that quality is maintained in the assessment these apprentices undertake and they retain credibility with employers, so we can be confident that apprentices who take their assessment in summer 2020 are not viewed as having taken a weaker assessment than those who come before or after them. We have so far approved changes to 35 apprenticeship standards in this way and we are continuing to do so. However, the number of requests we are receiving is slowing, so we are now beginning a first formal audit of the flexibilities that have been enacted to ensure that the reality on the ground is as envisaged. We are beginning to think through how the revised approach to EPA will evolve as the lockdown eases. I have no doubt that as with all aspects of life over the last few months there will be certain areas where we are keen to return to the status quo, but others where we find that the practises we have developed during this crisis are preferable to what went before. Necessity is the mother of invention and we will have found some means of conducting EPA in a crisis which will serve us well for the future. The Institute is absolutely committed to retaining these and will be working with Trailblazer Groups and Route Panels to this end when the time is right. The second of a series of blogs by Rob Nitsch, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, focuses on flexibilities introduced to end point assessment in response to the current constraints to the delivery apprenticeships.