Independence in apprenticeship-end point assessment

This week’s guest blog is by our colleague, Tim Chewter at SDN and tackles the subject of independence in apprenticeship end-point assessment.

Over the last few months, we’ve worked with almost 500 organisations interested in delivering end-point assessment. We’ve taken them through the options, opportunities, risks and decision making process. But the one question that cropped up at nearly every workshop was the question of ‘independence’.

It’s an important question – if you’re not clear what it means for your organisation and how to manage it, you’re unlikely to be approved as a registered AAO with the Skills Funding Agency. So here are some pointers:

Why ‘independence’?

End-point assessment for new apprenticeship standards is very different to what went on before. A new and broader range of standards are being introduced with end-point assessment delivered by completely new organisations, and overseen by new external quality assurance bodies.

Making sure that end-point assessment is independent from the apprenticeship training aims to create public credibility, comparability and increase accountability and control.

What should ‘independence’ look like for my organisation?

In the SFA’s Guidance for Trailblazers, they state ‘assessments will either be delivered by an independent third party, or will be delivered in such a way that ensures no party who has been involved in the delivery can make the sole decision on competence. The approach must clearly deliver an impartial result’. That means that those involved in the delivery of apprenticeship training cannot hold the ring of the final assessment.

But what does ‘independence’ look like in practice? It will vary significantly in different organisational and assessment contexts – that’s why there’s no official list of allowable models that pass an independence test.

The important question to ask yourself is – does my organisational model (including staff and partner organisations) guarantee that those making a decision on the competency of an apprentice have nothing to gain from the outcome? Can I clearly evidence this in the way we set up structures, processes, funding flows and policies?

In exceptional circumstances, an exemption might be granted which allows the same organisation to be involved in both end-point assessment and the on-programme delivery of a standard, but the delivery and assessment functions must be strictly separate.

Exemptions are not granted to training providers who wish to train and assess the same apprentices. Yes, providers and employers will have a role in end-point assessment – but ultimately, the final judgment has to be made undertaken by an independent organisation that has nothing to gain by any decisions they make.

How should we manage ‘independence’?

When you apply to the Register of Apprentice Assessment Organisations, you will need to clearly show the policies you have in place to manage ‘independence’.

In a recent interview we conducted with the SFA, they reiterated the need for potential AAOs to holistically evaluate where conflicts of interest may arise (both real and potential), and clearly evidence the robust policies in place to mitigate these. For example, have you got mechanisms in place for assessors to report any potential conflicts of interest, and allow them to step back from particular assessments to mitigate those risks?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does my conflict of interest policy identify the risks (both real and potential), how they will be monitored and how they will be mitigated?
  • Do my processes and policies deal with those risks arising from the design and implementation of assessment instruments?
  • Do my processes and policies deal with those risks arising from connections at corporate and individual level between end-point assessment administration and delivery, or apprentices?
  • Do my processes and policies deal with factors that could compromise end-point assessment decisions being made, or call the decisions into question?

Need help?

SDN are delivering the national DfE/ETF support programme to help organisations and assessors to deliver end-point assessment. We’ve also supported many of the trailblazer employer groups to develop assessment plans and helped to establish some of the first AAOs to deliver end-point assessment.

We can offer briefings, advice and consultancy support to help you set up as an AAO and deliver end-point assessment. Come and have a chat with us

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