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How our model of employer-led quality assurance of apprenticeships is helping to deliver a robust and highly valued service

Quality assurance of apprenticeships has been a hot topic since the apprenticeship reforms were introduced. Reports from some areas of the media have questioned the charges for services provided by external quality assurance (EQA) organisations, despite them being on a cost recovery only basis. As a provider of employer-led EQA for 18 standards across hospitality, retail, travel and aviation, our model is proving to be a unique approach that is adding value and strengthening the quality of apprenticeships.

In 2018 we were approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) as an EQA provider of apprenticeship end-point assessment to deliver one of the first ever models of employer-led external quality assurance. Since then, we’ve been working with 25 end-point assessment organisations (EPAO) to maintain the quality of apprenticeships in the hospitality, retail, travel and aviation sectors.

So what makes our model unique?

Having facilitated the development of the 18 standards and assessment plans across our sectors on behalf of employers, we since launched new strategic employer-led boards in hospitality, retail and travel which were formed following consultation with employers on the industry apprenticeship trailblazers and industry apprenticeship boards. These groups were brought together to form one skills and quality board in each industry.

As a result, employers in our sectors are continuing an active role in maintaining the quality of apprenticeships – ensuring that the programmes and end-point assessment are producing what they need them to produce. This means employers remain engaged, we maintain continuity in the approach to the standards and assessment, plus we have a rapid response approach to resolving any inconsistencies that we identify to end-point assessment as we can immediately pick these up with employers.

However, it’s not only the strength of our engagement with employers that’s making our approach so successful.

We’ve developed a model that enables us to build an open and long-term relationship with each of the 25 EPAOs for the hospitality, retail, travel and aviation standards - proactively engaging with them as soon as register approval is sought. We have a continuous and open dialogue through forums, newsletter updates, guidance documents and one-to-one review meetings, as well as actively responding to queries relating to end-point assessment development – all of which provide the opportunity for meaningful discussions on the quality assurance of apprenticeships.

We provide regular updates on current and pipeline standards, assessment plans and funding, as well as giving a national view in terms of both data and trends. Our forums enable us to share best practice, discuss and agree common operating practices to support market comparability of assessment and grading as well as an opportunity to address matters to be raised with the employer-led boards.

Critically, the EQA that we operate is not a ‘tick-box’ exercise and key themes in the approach include:

  • Employers taking control and accountability for quality
  • Evidence of results which show that apprenticeships culminating in end-point assessment add value to apprentices, employers and a sector as whole. Therefore, output is as important as ‘process’.
  • Preventing poor quality and/or assessment obstacles, rather than waiting to expose them. Through open, transparent and productive relationships with EPAOs, we identify potential issues early on and put a course of action in place to deal with them quickly.
  • Continuous improvement to continually maximise the effectiveness of apprenticeships

TQUK, who were approved as an end-point assessment organisation in 2017 and now undertake EPA for thirty standards, comment on their experience of our EQA approach:

“People 1st International has been extremely proactive and pragmatic in their approach to EQA. They were quick to establish EPAO forums which are always well attended and expertly facilitated to provide invaluable opportunities for all approved EPAOs.

“Their initial and on-going reviews of the process and quality of our provision has been welcomed and is undertaken in a manner that has been both useful to our development of this new service, but also unobtrusive in creating additional work to showcase our systems, quality processes and assessment practice and behaviours.

“They offer a customer focused approach with support and excellent response times, plus they welcome EPAO feedback which is evidently shared with employer groups.

“Overall our experience of People 1st International as an EQA provider is second to none.” - Kelle McQuade, Head of End-Point Assessment Organisation, TQUK

The impact to employers is also visible.

Lloyd Thomas, Apprenticeship Partner at Co-op and Chair of the Retail Skills & Quality Board, believes the employer-led model is delivering significant benefits to the sector:

“We opted for an employer-led approach to quality assurance in retail as we wanted an on-going and active role in maintaining the quality of apprenticeships.

“With the support of People 1st International, this means employers across the sector continue to be engaged in the apprenticeship agenda and we can rapidly respond to any feedback or inconsistencies in the standards or end-point assessment, ensuring we’re able to continually maximise the effectiveness of apprenticeships.

“We’re already seeing the value this brings with apprentices showing an increased motivation and understanding of their job role and requirements as well as a greater sense of achievement when they successfully complete the end-point assessment. From an employer’s perspective, our active engagement in the end-point assessment process ensures it is delivering the expected results.”

To find out more about our employer-led model of EQA click here.