David Gallagher, Managing Director, NCFE Apprenticeship Services
During my career I’ve benefitted from seeing the UK Skills System from a variety of perspectives. This has ranged from frontline delivery of employability programmes in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Europe, to a strategy and policy role at the Learning & Skills Council (now the Education & Skills Funding Agency), through to being nominated for an Ofsted inspection a matter of weeks into my first senior management role. Yet, as insightful and diverse as this experience has been, none has provided such rapid and enlightening insights into the ‘quality’ of the programmes in my proximity, as my first 6 months leading Apprenticeship End-Point Assessment (EPA) at NCFE.
EPA has become the day to day ‘acid test’ of whether the teaching, learning and development of an apprentice undertaking an Apprenticeship has met the expected standard. Unlike the infrequent visits of Ofsted, or External Quality Assurance that is one step removed from learners, EPA Organisations stand at a new vantage point in the Apprenticeship System. The impartiality and objectivity of EPA Organisations, combined with continuous and direct engagement with apprentices, creates an opportunity to gain deep insights that can be translated into the intelligence that we need to improve the quality and raise the value of Apprenticeships.
As is true with any radical change, the early days of EPA have presented plenty of challenges and it’s clear that the system is going through a period of adjustment. At NCFE we’ve invested heavily in creating a programme of support that equips training providers and employers with the information they need to ensure the success of their apprentices. The following section provides insights we believe will further support improvements in the quality and value of Apprenticeships; something we care about very much.
Whilst most training providers and some employers have endeavoured to understand exactly what the ‘end’ of an Apprenticeship really entails, it’s been surprising on how many occasions this understanding has been superficial or incomplete. It’s been even more worrying on the odd occasions where the Apprenticeship Standard and Assessment Plan has not been understood at all, until it’s too late.
Take the now overused analogy of the driving test and imagine yourself for one moment as the learner driver, fast approaching the day of your test. Imagine that you don’t fully understand the vehicle that is to be used, or the manoeuvres to be undertaken, or even some of the most basic laws of the road. How would you rate your chance of passing? In this context, it seems incomprehensible that one could be so ill prepared for an impending test. But it happens, in Apprenticeships.
Whilst it’s becoming more uncommon for apprentices to be at these extreme ends of unpreparedness, it’s still extremely common for there to be significant gaps in the knowledge of training providers, apprentices and employers, something we’re trying to change at NCFE.
To give apprentices the best possible chance of success, it’s absolutely crucial that training providers, employers and apprentices have a comprehensive understanding of what the EPA looks like. And whilst EPA organisations cannot teach providers or apprentices how to ‘pass the test’, it's a core part of our role to provide all of the relevant information to inform programme design and delivery from the very beginning.
This advice may sound extremely obvious, however, our experience is telling us that the depth, breadth and up to date understanding of the Standard, the Assessment Plan and the finer details of the EPA itself, is not always apparent. In such a new and rapidly changing environment, the challenge of keeping knowledge up to date and accurate cannot be underestimated.
At NCFE, we care about the success of your apprentices as much as you do, whilst maintaining our impartiality and the integrity of End-Point Assessment. We believe that training providers, employers and EPA Organisations working together as trusted partners is a central pillar to delivering the benefits of the new system which is why we’re advocating and investing in building partnerships across the sector.
Based on our early experiences of providing EPA, we’re already convinced that the greatest success will be enjoyed by the training providers and employers who design and follow a new type of ‘framework’ for delivering Apprenticeships. A framework that:
Our new Apprenticeship System has great potential to deliver the economic and social benefits that were envisioned at the outset of the Apprenticeship Reform Agenda. It is apparent to me that the key to realising these benefits can be found in a mix of time-served approaches and innovative new ideas, partnerships and the relentless pursuit of quality. As we gain further insight at NCFE, we’ll continue to share our learning with our customers and the wider Apprenticeships sector in the hope that we can play a big part in delivering a world class Apprenticeship System that we can all be proud to be a part of.
If you’d like to find out more about NCFE Apprenticeships and EPA, visit our website here: https://www.ncfe.org.uk/end-point-assessment