there have been many headline-grabbing announcements in apprenticeships over the past two years, not least the government’s target of three million apprenticeships by 2020 and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. Another big change for the skills sector is the move to end assessment.
Before delving into this, it’s worth stating categorically that, in principle, the move to end assessment is a positive change for apprenticeships. If it is designed and delivered well, it will provide a much more holistic assessment of each apprentice, which frees up the employer and training provider to focus on designing and delivering the workplace and off-the-job training and learning.
What’s important is that assessment plans are robust and properly thought through. They can be developed using a range of assessment tools to suit different occupations, but all plans must deliver validity and value for money. It is especially important to design a robust method of assessing practical competence holistically.
Where real work can be observed, this is the best method, but some occupations just cannot be “seen” easily. This means use of example projects, which must be carefully designed and managed. We’ve seen some plans that fall short on this.
The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) has been given responsibility for the quality of end assessment and for governance. We very much welcome this. But what’s not yet clear is exactly how independence will be maintained.
We have seen the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) undergo some difficulty in defining its position here, for example over whether and how to allow apprentice employers’ staff to be assessors. We think they have reached the right place by insisting that when this happens, a registered assessment organisation must still design and manage the assessors.
We believe that the independent assessor role is hugely important in the apprenticeship process and should be undertaken only by those who are both highly competent and have the credibility to make authoritative judgements.
This brings me to funding. Recent guidance on the levy was vague in relation to how and when employers’ virtual accounts will be used to pay for end assessment, with some indication that it could be rolled up with training costs. This would be an odd way to pay for assessment that happens at or near the end of the apprenticeship. We hope, once employer accounts are set up, end assessment will be paid for directly, avoiding any conflicts of interest.
End assessment costs are coming out at a reasonable level; somewhere between £400 and £1,500. This is a small proportion of the total for most apprenticeship price caps but could be a higher percentage in some cases for some of the lower funding caps. There is no direct correlation between the cost of end assessment and the funding cap because it is the nature of the occupation that determines the assessment methods that must be used. It is counter-productive for Bis to deal with this in a crude and invalid way by insisting on a proportion, rather everyone involved needs to work to create a valid and cost-effective approach.
Finally, it’s important to note that end assessment should be robust and only undertaken when the employer is satisfied that the apprentice will be able to show mastery of their occupation. Of course, qualifications will often be involved; if not, there will always be informal continuous assessment taking place. Employers and providers will need support and preparation to design and deliver this. We will try to help here, but Bis and the IfA should also put more into it.
Richard Guy is apprenticeships policy advisor for City & Guilds