The current Government has set about reforming the education and skills system, much like its predecessors, with major changes to apprenticeships, technical education and funding. The principles behind many of these reforms are admirable; aligning the skills system to needs of employers, eliminating 'low value' qualifications that are of little use to learners, and ensuring financial sustainability of the system. Unfortunately, as the policies emerge and are put into practice, there are serious concerns about the negative impact this could have on learners, educators and employers.
As an Awarding Organisation, NCFE has a unique perspective on these changes, different to that of colleges or training providers. We have over 170 years’ experience in the design and assessment of qualifications, with the delivery to the learner provided by an NCFE approved centre. We work with employers to produce our course content, and we are committed to ensuring continued robust assessment and examination. Awarding is a misunderstood, yet crucial part of the skills system, and it is changing.
One example of the aforementioned changes is the composition of apprenticeships. Previously, an apprenticeship was a 'framework' – consisting of, a 'bundle' of qualifications and units, which learners studied alongside 'on the job’ training. The new system to be introduced on the 1st May in the form of the Apprenticeships Levy, replaces this framework with a 'standard,' designed by employers. It is the hope of the government that the skills the apprentice gains are the ones needed to fulfil the job role they are working towards, more accurately than the current system, with little employer input, allows. Apprenticeship standards finish with an 'End Point Assessment’ (EPA). This is the part of the new system that seems flawed.
First of all, the Government is allowing any organisation to undertake End Point Assessment. Doing so ignores the vast expertise in assessment within the awarding sector, and taking a huge risk in allowing previously unregulated companies to assess a learner's skills. The quality of the system is further compromised by having unclear regulatory arrangements. At the moment, Ofqual regulate the awarding sector, ensuring that assessments are valid and robust. The new system hands control to the Institute for Apprenticeships; a newly formed, employer led group. Whilst employers welcome more control over course content, it's unlikely that's they ever wanted to become regulators, yet that is what is happening.
Assessment is complicated and there is a risk that quality will suffer because the existing expertise in delivery and regulation of assessment has been side-lined. It is therefore vital that employers choose an End Point Assessment Organisation that offers a rigorous and durable model of assessment for their apprentices.
It’s been genuinely exciting to see employers taking such an active part in the skills system in recent years. This will help to ensure that we create a system that gives people the skills employers want. Apprenticeships are back in the limelight and learners are seriously starting to see them as viable route in to employment, in light of rising university costs.
The next few years are crucial; if we get it wrong, learners could lose confidence in apprenticeships. I would urge employers to choose their Apprenticeship Assessment Organisation carefully, as this will have a huge impact on the success and reputation of their apprenticeship programme.
Michael Lemin, NCFE