‘Quality’ in Apprenticeships

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    As we move into a new era of ‘Standard’ Apprenticeships, now is a good time to consider ‘quality’ in Apprenticeships and what the change may mean for employers, Apprentices and the delivery network.

    Firstly let’s define ‘quality’.  It will be defined by the needs, expectations and requirements of the end recipients, namely the employer and the Apprentice.  From their perspective the programme must:


    • Deliver the skills that are required for the job role
    • Deliver an Apprentice that is able to contribute to the productivity of the company
    • Clearly define what an Apprentice has achieved so that their achievement is understood and valued


    • Lead to sustainable employment
    • Deliver skills that are valued by current and future employers

    But too often the complexities of delivering the programme leads to a dilution of the core value of Apprenticeships to the employer and the Apprentice.  The Government has a need to ensure public funding is invested responsibly, and the supply side (training providers) need programmes that are deliverable.

    In the move to ‘Standard’ based Apprenticeships there are both opportunities and risks.  The programmes should reflect the needs of the employers as they have been directly involved in designing the standard Apprenticeships.  But their output is much harder to measure as they are dependent on End Point Assessment (EPA).  So how should the quality of these new Apprenticeships be measured?  What tests of quality should be used?

    Apprentice·         Do they deliver valuable skills that lead to secure long term employment?
    Employers·         Do they ensure Apprentices can work productively in their job role?

    ·         Do the programmes deliver a clear and consistent standard?

    ·         Do employers understand the programmes and have confidence that they meet their needs when employing people that have completed an Apprenticeship programme?

    Government·         Do they deliver the skills the economy needs to ensure the UK is productive?

    ·         Do they deliver the social good around transforming Apprentices lives with transferable skills that have value in the economy?

    ·         Do they represent value for money, what is the dropout rate and is the public investment seen as value for money?

    To ensure ‘quality’ the EPA process must be credible, the judgements that Independent Assessors make will be crucial to maintaining a consistent standard that is valued by everyone.  As I write there are 159 End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs), each with a range of standards they are responsible for assessing, their assessment methods and evidence on which they base their assessment decisions will be crucial to ensure quality.

    So the work that the External Quality Assurance Bodies (EQABs) do in monitoring the performance of the EPAOs will become crucial to ensure ‘quality’.  In the short term EPAs will lack consistency, but in time best practice will emerge and the EQABs will be able to identify the best performing EPAOs and share best practice.

    But with so many EPAOs and EQABs in operation, there is a need for clear leadership and responsibility for the ‘quality’ of the new Apprenticeships.  While this will be delivered in part by the Institute for Apprenticeships, there are other organisations that have a role to play such as Ofsted, the QAA and Office for Students.  Our view is that there should be a single body accountable to give clear leadership to the market.

    The ‘quality’ processes and requirements implemented by the EQABs will, over time, ensure the overall quality of Standard Apprenticeships by delivering robust end point assessments, and where appropriate by agreeing corrective actions with EPAOs.

    Whilst there is always risk when a programme changes, the hope and expectation is that the new style standard Apprenticeships will deliver what employers want, with Apprentices that are well prepared for employment in their chosen industry.  Whilst the responsibility for ‘quality assurance’ will move from qualification based programmes, quality can still be assured by having credible EPA processes that test the skills and attributes required by the industry.

    Having consistent data and evidence to support assessment decisions, and well prepared independent End Point Assessors will be crucial to ensuring future quality in Apprenticeships, two areas that The Federation is working on to support the delivery of high quality Apprenticeships that both employers and Apprentices value.

    Richard Bloxam

    Director of Governance

    The Federation for Industry Sector Skills & Standards

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    This post was written by ACE360

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