Updated 11 February 2021

This guidance describes how to approach decisions relating to end-point assessments (EPAs) during the current COVID-19 situation. It applies until further notice.

The Institute will not consider the withdrawal of any flexibilities referred to in this note before May 1 and will provide at least three-months-notice of any decision to terminate. The earliest they could actually be withdrawn is the end of August.

Those flexibilities that are deemed to be an improvement on the previous EPA arrangements will be retained.

1. Overview

Where possible, apprentices should continue with scheduled EPAs, that are in line with requirements set out in the assessment plan. This includes where apprentices change employers.

If this is not possible, providers should first consider rescheduling the EPA to when all the requirements set out in the assessment plan can be met without unreasonably disadvantaging the apprentice. This could be achieved by applying a break in learning if the apprentice has not yet reached gateway or pause after gateway until they can take their EPA.

For more information, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has guidance on flexibilities for breaks in learning.

We recognise that in some cases rescheduling the EPA or scheduling a break in learning will not work. This might particularly be the case if it could cause the apprentice hardship. For example, where the apprentice:

  • cannot complete their apprenticeship before their term of employment ends or
  • cannot progress to a higher salary or
  • cannot move onto further training or another employer.

We have identified a series of optional adjustments to the assessment to allow EPAs to continue in such circumstances, without compromising quality.

These fall into three categories:

  • general flexibilities across all standards
  • flexibilities available for use, with prior approval from the external quality assurance provider (EQAP) on a case-by-case basis
  • flexibilities specific to an apprenticeship standard; we call these ‘temporary discretions’.

You can find the list of all standards with temporary discretions or flexibilities in our recent updates section.

Some of these adjustments apply to integrated degree apprenticeships which are regulated by the Office for Students. In such cases, breaks or pauses in learning should be in conjunction with the higher education institute’s procedures so that the EPA still takes place and its outcome is included in the awarding of the degree.

It should be noted that the flexibilities in this guidance do not change the expected outcomes included in the EPA plan.

2. General requirements

End-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) must keep a specific log of any COVID-19 related actions. This includes the application of any measures listed below and/or any temporary discretions relating to a specific standard. These should be available for review by EQAPs.

Assessments must only be in a supervised and controlled environment. EPAOs must ensure all assessment meets safety and security requirements. Details of invigilation are to be recorded and must be available for confirmation by EQAPs.

If an EPAO requires clarification on specific temporary discretions or flexibilities that are already approved, (including confirmation that their plans correctly apply the temporary discretion) they should contact their EQAP in the first instance.

3. General flexibilities available for use across all standards

We will allow flexibility in delivery by relaxing the set order of assessment methods.

Gateway is when the employer and training provider review their apprentice’s knowledge, skills and behaviours to see if they have met the minimum requirements for their apprenticeship. Apprentices complete gateway when their employer and training provider agree that they have met the minimum requirement and are ready to take their assessment.

Gateway sign-off can be done remotely, with the agreement of the apprentice, employer and training provider.

Where an apprentice has passed their gateway and the EPA plan specifies a time limit by which EPA must be completed after that point, this can be extended. This is at the discretion of the EPAO until it is safe and practical for the assessment to take place, and in discussion with the employer and apprentice. 

If this is the case, EPAOs need to inform their EQAPs on a timely basis and should also attempt to schedule an EPA.

We expect temporary discretions for specific standards to mean that EPA for those standards can generally continue. Therefore, in most cases, where a temporary discretion is in place, an extension to the timeframe set out in the EPA plan should not be needed.

Assessments can take place in suitable alternative venues, including an apprentice’s home if the EPAO considers this to be reasonable, viable and safe. The EPAO must ensure that the assessment environment is secure and suitable for conducting the assessment itself, and for the apprentice. The assessment will need to be delivered fairly and appropriately and must be invigilated. Invigilators can be specifically recruited for this role, but training and supervision needs to be in-line with the EPAO’s invigilation procedures. All invigilators must be trained and meet the usual independence criteria including:

  • attending training as directed by the EPAO
  • have no direct connection or conflict of interest with the apprentice, employer or training provider
  • invigilate and supervise apprentices in breaks during assessment methods to prevent malpractice.

Some assessment methods need a manager or team leader to be physically present; these should continue as normal. If this is not possible, a manager or team leader can be present remotely if it is reasonable and:  

  • the health and safety issues from the physical absence of a manager or team leader have been considered
  • the identity of the apprentice has been verified 
  • the apprentice and the EPAO have agreed to the physical absence of a manager or team leader.

In certain circumstances, an apprentice can pass gateway and take their EPA before receiving a calculated functional skills qualification result. To find out more see our information note. It remains the responsibility of the EPAO to confirm that an apprentice has achieved their relevant functional skills qualifications before apprenticeship completion takes place.

4. Flexibilities available for use with prior approval of EQAP

Where an assessment method needs face-to-face engagement, you can do this by using video conferencing (including for workplace observations).

Such a remote assessment can only take place if:

  • the EQAP has agreed on the arrangements in advance
  • the EPAO or an independent assessor have verified the apprentice’s identity
  • appropriate technology and systems are in place to prevent malpractice, making sure the apprentices are not receiving help
  • an appropriately trained invigilator or qualified assessor(s) supervises the apprentice (this can happen remotely). The invigilator or qualified assessor(s) must meet the following criteria:
    • hold the necessary qualifications, training or experience (as detailed in the assessment plan)
    • not have been involved in the training, preparation or line management of the apprentice
  • the impact on apprentices is taken into consideration to ensure a fair and reliable assessment of occupational competence.

If suitable facilities exist and are available, you can use simulated environments for practical assessments, as long as the EPAO considers this to be reasonable and it has the prior approval from the EQAP.

Where a standard is transferred from one EQAP to another we expect the new EQAP to honour the flexibility/discretion in place and carry out their responsibility as the EQA. This applies to the transitions since November 2020 through our EQA reform process.

5. Additional flexibilities or ‘temporary discretions’

Along with the measures above, if you think a specified assessment method for a standard needs to be further modified to be deliverable, without compromising safety and still meeting the requirements set out in the assessment plan, we are able to consider this on a case-by-case basis. 

You should speak to your EPAO or EQAP in the first instance to discuss this.

The authority to change (or substitute) an assessment method as a temporary discretion remains with the Institute. We will keep temporary discretions under review, but will not withdraw any until the end of August 2021 at the earliest.

You can find the list of all standards with temporary discretions and flexibilities and information about how we agree on requests for flexibilities and discretions in our COVID-19 information hub.

6. For more information

If you have any queries about this guidance please email enquiries.ifa@education.gov.uk. To help us identify and prioritise your query please use the following title in the subject box: EPA_Covid 19 [your Organisation name]

Other Related Guidance and Advice can be sought from:

National Apprenticeship ServiceApprentices should get in contact with the National Apprenticeship ServiceTelephone: 0800 0150 600Email: helpdesk@manageapprenticeships.service.gov.uk

Department for Education coronavirus helpline Telephone: 0800 046 8687Email: DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk

For more government information targeted at apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Information on the Office for Student’s response to the COVID-19 situation.

Information on Ofqual’s  arrangements for the assessment and awarding of vocational and technical qualifications in the context of COVID-19 situation.

To find out more on functional skills qualifications or mandated qualifications, please contact the relevant awarding organisation.