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IfATE’s new approach to mandatory qualification policy is a positive step forward, but time is of the essence

by AELP’s Director of Policy - Simon Ashworth

It was positive to see last week the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) confirm it will continue with its current approach to look, where practical, to integrate the awarding of mandatory qualifications into the completion of the end point assessment (EPA).

Although more integrated assessment on its own will not solve the perceived issue with apprenticeship quality, it is through a significant step forward on improving apprenticeship completions. With nearly 330 responses to the consultation this is a policy that has clearly sizeable interested across a wide range of stakeholders – and it is important to recognise at the outset though that a policy change like this will cause some disruption for providers and end point assessment organisations.

For providers juggling different iterations of the same standard and assessment plan has added complexity that we rarely had to contend with within the legacy apprenticeship frameworks. The change in policy will also mean that the role and input of the training provider post gateway will be increased further. On this point, it would now be a really sensible time for the Department for Education (DfE) to look at their current position stating that the provider’s responsibilities end at the gateway, and the end point assessment is managed and co-ordinated between the employer and the end point assessment organisation. Only last month, the DfE final finally acknowledged that the formal responsibility for selecting end point assessment would become the responsibility of the training providers, unless of course the employer really wanted to be involved in this exercise.

For end point assessment organisations, the policy change will mean significant work to map the mandatory qualifications identified as requiring integration into the end point assessment components. There are also some end point assessment organisations who – despite being recognised by Ofqual – do not offer standalone qualifications like a traditional awarding organisation. I think this later point is still one which is not on the radar for many.

We also need now to consider the impact on the apprentice and the wider apprenticeship programme. AELP’s recent provider survey found that on average 5-10% of withdrawals were related to the successful completion of the mandatory qualification, although this is likely to be higher in some specific industries. Anything that can be done to help improve retention and apprenticeship achievements is a no brainer. Although, to be clear this does not mean the achievement rate will jump up over time by this amount. It just means that this volume of apprentices will head deeper into the programme and still then need to tackle the end point assessment itself.

With around 40% of apprenticeship standards below level 6 having at least one mandatory qualification there is a danger that this process of updating apprenticeship assessment plans takes place over several years, and that the benefits of integrated assessment are then not realised until well into the future. In terms of rollout, it is key that the IfATE needs to act in a joined up and targeted way to address assessment plans in apprenticeship standards where this policy change will have the most sizeable impact. Waiting several years would represent a huge opportunity missed.

One of the myths we see ourselves is that not all mandatory qualifications will end up being integrated. Two examples to consider are in construction and boat building. Firstly, in construction the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, more commonly known as the “CSCS card”, is a prerequisite to gain access to a construction site. It would be both impractical and impossible to make the change of integrating the awarding of such as license to practice into the end point assessment, as the apprentice would not be allowed on site to undertake their on and off-the job training in the first place. I believe that boat building holds the unenviable record of containing the most mandatory qualifications of all 660+ apprenticeship standards. There are a significant volume of mandatory qualifications required to even pass through the gateway requirements, so to try and integrate all of these with the end point assessment would again be impractical and extremely complex. Apprenticeship is all about simplification now don’t you know?

More widely in the IfATE’s response on its future policy to mandatory qualification it was positive to see that high quality qualifications that go beyond the required skills, knowledge and behaviours dictated in the apprenticeship standard itself will still be allowed, even if only in exceptional circumstances. This was something that AELP called for in our response to the consultation. With such significant reform of the qualifications landscape currently underway it would have been a particularly bad decision to exclude established and recognised qualifications from apprenticeships where they went over and above the core criteria.

This is a positive step forward, but the hard work starts now.

IfATE’s new approach to mandatory qualification policy is a positive step forward, but time is of the essence

by AELP’s Director of Policy - Simon Ashworth

Last published: 15/06/2023