EPA qualifications: how will they help?


Demand for End Point Assessors

Much has been written about the new arrangements for assessing apprentices and how different this is, with “new skills” needed.

With large numbers of apprenticeship schemes already running, about to start, or in the process of being set up, the number of apprentices expected by the UK government can only grow. Despite some of the initial uncertainty earlier this year, there still appears to be the aspiration to have 3 million people on apprenticeship programmes by 2020, the funding of which will come (at least in part) from the new apprenticeship levy.

Many End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) are recruiting at present and the number of End Point Assessors that will be needed, surely far exceeds the number of existing assessment professionals.

How different is EPA?

Whilst it is true that EPA generally uses a wider range of assessment methods than traditional assessment, the knowledge and skills needed are really only those included within the current “TAQA” suite of qualifications for assessors.

However, the particular context and often highly prescribed requirements within the apprenticeship standards, has given birth to a special qualification for End Point Assessors – the Award in Undertaking End Point Assessment.

How will gaining this new qualification help?

Given the likely future demand for assessors, there are some obvious advantages to gaining this qualification.  This new qualification provides existing assessment professionals a means to demonstrate their specific knowledge, understanding, and practice in this new context, and therefore enhance their credibility, standing and expertise while supporting the shift in focus towards apprenticeships.

Probably the greatest advantage though, given the number of new assessors that will be needed, is for those who are currently working as experts in their field, as it will help them to be able to:

  • learn about the principles of apprenticeships
  • learn about the principles of assessment and assessment methods
  • understand the importance, intentions and practice of EPA
  • identify the standards that apply to the Apprenticeship in their professional field
  • learn how to use the assessment methods required for the EPA of the apprenticeships in their professional field
  • show that they can use these methods effectively.

For these individuals, the new qualification is particularly appropriate as it will add to professional subject-matter expertise and the additional knowledge, understanding and practice of End Point Assessment.

Furthermore, getting qualified will also increase personal confidence and help raise credibility.  Organisations will surely also benefit with staff and associates having greater knowledge and understanding of apprenticeships and the related standards.

Maintaining the standard

The existing “TAQA” qualifications for assessors (for example Certificate in Assessing Vocational Achievement) are in some apprenticeship standards a requirement. These are valid within an EPA context, and therefore well worth gaining, regardless of whether they are noted in an apprenticeship standard.

For those apprenticeship standards that do not specify an assessment qualification as mandatory, EPAOs will still need to demonstrate that their staff have the required knowledge, understanding and practice in the context of apprenticeship assessment.

This will particularly include effectiveness in a range of assessment methods and approaches to robust record keeping and reporting, as included in the new EPA qualification.  Additionally, all of this will need to be demonstrated by EPAOs to their Quality Assurance organisations to help keep the value of apprenticeship to the high level to which the government aspires.

Consider getting qualified!

Whether you are an existing professional, a recently appointed End Point Assessor, or someone who may become involved with EPA, why not consider the advantage of gaining one or more of these important assessment qualifications?

Here at ATi we have been helping individuals and teams within organisations gain their TAQA assessment qualifications since their inception.  We are now proud to be one of the earliest providers of the new assessment qualification for End Point Assessors and are delighted to be able to support the growing apprenticeship initiatives.

Furthermore, for those working in, or aspiring to work within, the quality assurance arena – such as for qualification Awarding Organisations, or EPA Quality Assurance Organisations, you might like to consider becoming an External Quality Advisor.

Do check out our qualification pages or get in touch with us for an informal discussion about any of these qualifications – we are always interested in new ways we can help.

EPA SM graphic

EQA Q-and-A: Webinar follow up!


It was great to host our recent webinar on “Becoming an EQA” where I explored the role and responsibilities of an External Quality Adviser (EQA).  This included some thoughts on applying to awarding organisations as well as the EQA qualifications and how these can be achieved.

Thanks to those of your who completed the quick survey and took a few moments to send me your interesting comments and suggestions for future webinars.  Thanks also to those of you who posted questions during the live session and sent in further follow up questions.   As promised, here are my thoughts of a few of the most popular themes:

1.      Can a Standards Verifier gain the EQA qualifications?

Although the work of a standards verifier (SV) is very like much of the work of an EQA, in that an SV samples candidate work and assessor work and gives feedback, many of the requirements of the EQA qualification are not normally undertaken by a standards verifier. My answer to this question is therefore…..no, probably not.

2.      Do I have to be working for an awarding organisation in the role of an EQA to gain the EQA qualification, or can I undertake shadowing, understudy, or attachment to an awarding organisation to provide the required evidence?

The qualification specifications are very clear on this! The evidence produced must be from a real working environment. If you are not working in the role of an EQA for an awarding organisation but are only undertaking the EQA visit “under supervision” and not with authority and in your own right, then the evidence produced is not from a real working environment.  This means that you are not taking responsibility for e.g. fully planning it or the formal reporting of it, which is (quite rightly) what the qualifications require.

I do know that some awarding organisations and associated centres are trying to offer the EQA qualification under the guise of a “secondment” or “attachment” featuring evidence from a single visit only.  In my view, and that of ATi’s senior team, this does not demonstrate the qualification criteria sufficiently: good practice would be at least two or three visits evidenced within a portfolio.

If you find a centre that is willing to provide the full EQA award (knowledge unit and practical unit) without you holding a role as an EQA for an awarding organisation, please be prepared that your evidence may not be accepted, and any certificates awarded may be deemed improperly gained and potentially be removed by Ofqual!

To avoid this, please make sure when seeking this qualification that you check exactly how the practical unit can be gained.  Be very wary of organisations offering a route via some form of simulation (such as shadowing or short attachment).

3.      I hold a role as an EQA for an awarding organisation, but because of recent absence or other duties have not been exercising this role for a while. Are there any time limits on the evidence that I must produce to gain the practical unit of the qualification?

In general terms, the answer for most qualifications in the UK is that evidence must be current. However, the definition of current does vary between qualifications. Because the EQA is right at the top of the qualifications and quality assurance chain it would be normal for a centre providing these qualifications to ask that your evidence is within 12 months of your assessment date. Having said this, however, exceptions can be made and there will be some working disciplines where your visits to centres might be more sporadic, in which case perhaps within 24 months might be permitted.

If the majority of your evidence is rather old, a simple top up to show currency may be all that is needed. The golden rule here of course is that you should discuss this matter with your adviser/assessor who should be able to guide you on what might be needed, and what would be acceptable, if necessary checking with the relevant awarding organisation.

4.      Many awarding organisations seem to insist that sampling should be a percentage of work undertaken by candidates, whilst others do not have this rule. What percentage should be sampled by an EQA, and for that matter by an IQA?

There are no hard and fast rules here. Traditionally a percentage was always stated by awarding organisations, mainly for the reason of making sure that enough was sampled to try and guarantee quality. Current good practice, following Ofqual’s guidelines of working on a risk basis, is not to state a percentage: the amount of sampling that is needed depends on quite a large range of variables.

If you have further individual questions, or would like to register with us for an EQA qualification, we would be very pleased to hear from you. check out our Open Programmes or visit our EQA qualification page.

Posted in EQA

So how DO you become an External Quality Assurer (EQA)?

Chicken & egg situation

Over the years there have been several LinkedIn discussions about how to become an external verifier – now called an external quality advisor (EQA). One of the challenges to everyone is that we seem to find ourselves in a chicken-and-egg situation (you of course can’t have a chicken without having an egg first, but you need an egg to be able to produce a chicken – which comes first?).

In my view, the same thing is now true of becoming a fully qualified EQA – the practical unit requires you to be engaged by an Awarding Organisation and undertaking EQA activities for them, but many Awarding Organisations will not appoint an EQA who does not already hold the qualifications.

As widely acknowledged, the role of an EQA is a very important one and involves representing the Awarding Organisation in overseeing the quality assurance of that Approved Centre’s operations.  This of course includes checking the Centre’s delivery, assessment, and internal verification to the correct standards, so that candidates are registered on appropriate programmes and only certificated when they have truly demonstrated the requirements of the qualification that they are taking.

Awarding Organisations are in turn responsible to the UK government regulator Ofqual to ensure that this is undertaken rigorously and professionally. It is no wonder then that Awarding Organisations look for their EQAs to be qualified and up to the job.

So how can this be achieved?

The EQA qualifications consists of two units, a Knowledge unit and a Practical unit. Whilst the Knowledge unit is straightforward and can be undertaken by anyone at any time, it is this Practical unit that presents us with the challenge because:

  1. The criteria to achieve this unit can only be met by those who are fully active in the field of EQA operations
  2. It’s one of those qualifications where not only is simulation not permitted it could be argued that this is not even possible
  3. Evidence must be produced of having undertaken formal EQA visits to Approved Centres on behalf of an Awarding Organisation

When LLUK first created the TAQA suite of qualifications (which include the EQA qualifications) it is clear that one of their key motivations was to ensure a good professional standard of operations within external verification communities.  This was to apply to all Awarding Organisations and to raise the standard nationally of external verification work and in my view an excellent intention!

However…..what was missed was what we might consider to be the “succession planning component”. What mechanism was there to ensure that very experienced and high-quality IQAs had a pathway into the external verification profession?  As a result, around five years on, we find ourselves in the position that we are today.

So how CAN I become and EQA?

To my mind, there are two approaches which seem to fit this current conundrum.

  1. Awarding Organisations could include in their recruitment some new EQAs who are not qualified, and then train and accredit these EQAs to the required qualification standard. Whilst some major Awarding Organisations do appear to take this approach already, there is some evidence that the training and accreditation is not necessarily taking place; I accept that this can be time-consuming, sometimes costly and an Awarding Organisation that is recruiting is usually looking for staff to hit the ground running to do the job immediately without too much training or supervision.

I worry a bit about this and within the last few years I have become aware of (and needed to challenge) poor practice increasingly creeping into our national quality assurance framework. Something else that adds to my concerns is the lack of a requirement by Ofqual for Awarding Organisations to have EQA-qualified staff, so that within Awarding Organisations the proper training and accreditation of EQAs can easily be overlooked. This is not currently an area of focus for Ofqual it seems.

  1. The second possible solution is that aspiring EQAs could commence their Knowledge qualification training in advance of an application to an awarding organisation, to show determination, commitment, and that they hold or are gaining the knowledge of EQA work in preparation for undertaking the required EQA duties once appointed.

This seems to be happening increasingly, and is clearly good practice within the current circumstances. However, part of motivation for writing this is that not everyone is aware of this as a route to becoming an EQA, as well as it being an excellent way of increasing knowledge and understanding for the CPD of experienced IQAs.

If Awarding Organisations don’t look after the succession planning of our EQA’s nationally, the time will come when the quality assurance system that safeguards the high quality and reputation of UK qualifications throughout the world will become damaged.  I fear ultimately some devastating effects of this on our international reputation for providing high quality qualifications.

In the meantime….

If you are an IQA, have you thought about looking at the EQA knowledge qualification for your own CPD, and to position yourself in readiness for a position with an awarding organisation as an EQA? If not, maybe the time has come when you should do this?  ATi is one of a very small number of providers that are formally approved to offer the full suite of TAQA qualifications, including both the Knowledge unit and Practical unit of the EQA qualifications.   Check out our qualification pages and current courses list or get in touch to see how we might help.

Doing this will help the UK maintain the reputation for the high quality of qualifications whilst positioning yourself well for your own future opportunities, including as an EQA with an Awarding Organisation.

Posted in EQA
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