The Institute is seeking applications to a directory of professional and employer-led bodies that supports the Institute, Ofqual and the Office for Students (OfS) in their external quality assurance (EQA) of apprenticeship assessments. Professional and employer-led bodies that have a role in maintaining standards of occupational competence and an interest in skills development should apply.

Following a public consultation to strengthen and simplify the EQA system, Ofqual and the Office for Students (OfS) will deliver EQA of end-point assessment (EPA), in line with the Institute’s EQA framework. This transition started in November 2020.

The directory of professional and employer-led bodies supports the Institute’s commitment to maintain employer voice and industry input in the evaluation of EPA. Partnerships with industry recognised professional organisations gives evaluation of the quality of apprenticeship assessment added credibility, and recognition as a genuine test of occupational competence.

The Institute will manage the directory of professional and employer-led bodies, including recruiting and approving organisations, whilst Ofqual or the OfS will work with them directly to commission and carry out activity in support of EQA. You can find more detail on what organisations can expect to do in annex 1. Whilst this includes specific activities that the Institute could request of organisations in the future, this guidance focusses on activity that Ofqual or the OfS can commission to support EQA.

You can sign up for a session to learn more about the Directory of Professional and Employer-led Bodies.

1. Overview

  1. Organisations will need to apply for entry onto the directory of professional and employer-led bodies against a particular apprenticeship standard or standards and indicate which functions they could carry out in support of EQA. (Organisations can request to expand the number of standards that they are approved for by contacting the Institute, they would not need to submit a full application again). As part of the application process, we will seek necessary assurances relating to conflicts of interest and confidentiality. 
  2. The Institute will assess applications against the criteria below and confirm in writing whether we approve entry onto the directory.
  3. Organisations will need to put forward suitably qualified individuals to work with Ofqual or OfS to provide occupational insight to the education regulators. This can be through their own staff, via their membership or other networks.
  4. The Institute will seek assurance that the organisation will put forward individuals with appropriate expertise and no conflict of interest.
  5. The Institute will issue a formal acceptance letter to successful organisations, pass details on to Ofqual or the OfS as appropriate and publish the organisation name on our website.
  6. Ofqual or the OfS will commission the employer directory organisation and agree EQA activity required.
  7. Ofqual or the OfS will issue payment to the organisation following satisfactory and timely completion of the required activity.

2. Criteria

We will assess an organisation’s application on three overarching criteria:

  • the organisation represents employers from across the occupation
  • the organisation has the experience and the capability to fulfil its role as an occupational expert
  • there is no conflict of interest that would prevent the organisation from operating in this role

More detail on these criteria and how an organisation can evidence them is below.

The organisation represents employers from across the occupation

Trailblazer groups are reflective of those who employ people in a particular occupation. We will therefore ask trailblazer groups to nominate the most appropriate organisation(s) to support the EQA of their apprenticeship standard(s) in the first instance. The Institute will also carry out direct engagement with organisations that could provide occupational expertise in EQA.

  1. For all approved standards, we will ask trailblazers to nominate a suitable organisation.
  2. Organisations can also nominate themselves and apply directly if they meet the criteria. – they should agree this with the appropriate trailblazer. If the trailblazer group is no longer active, this should be noted on the application.
  3. To fully establish the directory the Institute may also directly invite organisations to apply.

Evidence required: Organisations can provide a range of evidence to demonstrate how they represent the sector or profession. For example:

  • their governance structure
  • oversight responsibilities
  • details of any charters granted
  • relevant statutory functions
  • board members with roles across a range of employers
  • range of employers worked with
  • number of members from across the sector

The organisation has the experience and the capability to fulfil its role as an occupational expert

The directory of professional and employer-led bodies will be composed of the diverse range of organisation types which can provide occupational expertise. Organisations on the employer directory must have been established for purposes which are relevant to the required activities, have credibility with employers and usually have ongoing relationships with industry.

Although this list is not exhaustive, we typically expect applications from:

  • organisations regulating entry to, and exit from, a particular profession
  • trade associations made up of (and funded by) members who are employers in a given sector
  • Chartered Institutes, whose members are individual professionals in a given sector
  • guild or livery companies
  • organisations with an established industry levy
  • intermediary bodies, widely recognised to represent a given sector, with a focus on supporting skills development
  • professional membership bodies widely recognised as setting standards for that profession

Evidence required: Organisations can provide evidence of their legal structure and status if relevant, and appropriate registration details. They could also provide a copy of their constitution, or their charter (for chartered organisations).

Organisations will choose which of the functions in annex 1 they can support Ofqual or the OfS within their EQA activity. For each function selected, organisations will need to set out in their application the capability and capacity of the organisation to carry out the activity.

Evidence required: Organisations should submit material which demonstrates their capability and capacity to carry out the selected functions. It may include testimonials or other third-party material eg media excerpts or receipt of relevant awards. They can describe their experience, any accreditation they offer, their reach across the sector, provide an organisational structure and the role of industry boards or committees they may use.

We will also ask the organisation about the individuals they will put forward to carry out the activity. Organisations will need to assure the Institute that they will provide suitably qualified individuals with current experience in the occupation and an industry-wide perspective. Individuals may be sought from staff, the organisation’s membership or other networks.

Evidence required: Organisations will need to demonstrate how they will source appropriate individuals (for example, staff, consultants, membership), how they assess an individual’s suitability how they train or provide professional development to ensure individuals have current knowledge on relevant topics, and how they ensure individuals have no conflict of interest. Individuals will be accustomed to and appropriate for overseeing the assessment of apprentices and entry-level roles. The organisation is accountable for the quality of work by the individual and feedback on this will be sought from Ofqual or the OfS.

Information on the role of the individual

Individuals will be expected to carry out a range of activities, in line with the functions set out in annex 1 and the Institute’s EQA framework. The organisation will need to ensure that the individual, whether sourced from its staff, membership, or network has the appropriate skills as set out below, and also that they have no conflict of interest. Organisations will be accountable for the quality of the individual’s work. 

Knowledge and skills

Individuals should have recent and close experience of the occupation, an understanding of assessing best practice, or expertise acquired through significant time in the industry. They should also demonstrate engagement with ongoing developments in the sector for example, through membership of key organisations and understanding of sector-wide issues.

Judgement

Individuals must be impartial and demonstrate sound judgement in dealing with complex issues to arrive at balanced and timely decisions.

Communication

Individuals may carry out desk-based reviews as well as observation visits, so it is essential that they communicate effectively both in writing and in person. They should be able to document and feedback clearly and constructively. They must also be able to communicate and interact with a diverse group of people.

There is no conflict of interest that would prevent the organisation from operating in this role

There are two types of conflict of interest:

  1. An actual conflict: a conflict (financial or otherwise) which has materialised between an organisation’s (or individual’s) EQA duties and their other interests.
  2. A potential (or perceived) conflict: where an actual conflict is foreseeable but not certain (and not yet actual).

Both organisations and individuals could have a conflict of interest. Organisations and/or individuals will be excluded from EQA activity where identified conflicts are material and cannot be mitigated. When deciding whether the identified conflict is material and whether any mitigating arrangements are required, the Institute will assess the level of conflict from the information in the application form, any due diligence exercise and other relevant material available to the Institute before making a decision.

It is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure that any and all potential conflicts (both at an organisational and individual level) are disclosed in writing to the Institute prior to them becoming involved in any EQA activity. This responsibility is ongoing, and the Institute should be informed of any actual or potential conflicts are identified after the application process is complete. Organisations and individuals may also need to comply with conflict-of-interest obligations as required by Ofqual.

Further detail on organisational and individual conflicts is set out below, but if organisations are unsure about conflicts of interest, they should contact the Institute for advice at EQAQueries.IFA@education.gov.uk 

Organisational conflicts

Many organisations are already heavily involved in different parts of the technical education system, for example in the development of standards, as advisors, as training providers and EPA organisations.

There are instances where a conflict of interest is too great for the organisation to take part in EQA. For example:

A body that has registered to deliver end-point assessment (EPA) for a particular standard(s) cannot also carry out EQA activity for that standard(s).

Other examples of organisational conflict of interest and details of potential mitigating arrangements include:

  • A body that is registered as an apprenticeship training provider (RoATP). Such bodies may only carry out EQA functions for standards which they do not deliver training for. This ensures independence and protects all parties against any claims of bias.
  • A body that is associated with another that offers apprenticeship training or EPA. In these circumstances, the Institute will request additional assurances on independence and make a judgement on conflicts of interest. For example, if an organisation has a subsidiary that carries out EPA, we will ask about the relationship with the rest of the organisation including the type of information that is shared and how / where the organisation will source individuals for EQA activity.

Individual conflicts

Even if a body does not have a conflict of interest itself, it will still need to ensure that this is the case for any individuals put forward to support EQA activity. Organisations should therefore ensure that individuals understand what an actual or potential conflict is, what they need to declare and in what circumstances.

Organisations should also assess whether an individual put forward to carry out EQA activity has any actual or potential conflicts of interest when it makes its application (and later if individuals are identified post application).

Examples of individual conflicts of interest:

  • having a financial or any other personal interest in the outcome of the EQA activity for a particular standard
  • working (as a staff member or volunteer) for an organisation providing EPA services for a particular standard
  • receiving any kind of monetary payment, non-monetary gift or incentive (including hospitality) from any organisation due or having EQA activity carried out
  • canvassing, or negotiating with any person with a view to entering into any of the arrangements outlined above
  • having a member of your family (which includes unmarried partners) who fall into any of the categories outlined above

Disclosure required:

Organisations should provide their conflict-of-interest policy and declare organisational and individual conflicts of interest as part of the application process. The Institute expects any change in an organisation’s or individual’s position to be disclosed as soon as reasonably possible. Failure to disclose any information that prohibits an organisation or individual from carrying out independent EQA could result in removal from the employer directory.

3. Payment

Ofqual or the OfS will discuss the EQA activity required directly with the organisation and agree any payment. The volume of EQA activity will vary and depends on a variety of factors. This includes the number of EPA organisations active against a particular standard, priority in the triennial plan of EQA activity or requirement for more frequent EQA.

Following the completion of the activity, Ofqual or the OfS will issue payment.

4. How to apply

Application process for organisations

  1. Organisations should check that they meet the above criteria and then submit an application. As part of the application, the organisation will need to indicate which functions they have the capability and capacity to provide to support Ofqual or the OfS’ EQA work (see annex 1). They will also need to demonstrate how they ensure the suitability of the individuals they put forward to carry out each activity. By submitting the application, organisations are confirming that they have provided details of all current actual or potential conflicts of interest (both at an organisational level and an individual level). Submission of the application also signifies agreement on the part of the organisation (and any individuals involved with EQA activity) to notify the Institute of any conflicts in future and to treat all information received as part of the EQA activity as confidential.
  2. If an organisation is self-nominating, they should discuss and agree with the trailblazer. Where this is not possible, for example, if the trailblazer is no longer active, please indicate this in the application. Trailblazer groups have been recognised by the Institute as representative of a broad range of employers. The Institute would usually, therefore, seek their advice on an organisation’s suitability and capability to provide the relevant functions.
  3. The Institute will assess the application against the above criteria. EQA activities for Ofqual or the OfS will not begin until the Institute has confirmed, in writing, that the organisation has been approved.
  4. Where more information is needed, the Institute will contact the organisation directly to discuss.
  5. Where an application does not meet the criteria, the Institute will provide a decision in writing. There is no appeals process, however, if a trailblazer wishes to challenge a final decision of the Institute made in connection with the employer directory, it can do so via procedural review.

Nominations by trailblazer groups

A trailblazer group can also nominate an organisation(s) which meets the above criteria by emailing the following details to EQAQueries.IFA@education.gov.uk:

Apprenticeship standard: name and reference numberOrganisation nominated by trailblazer group for application to the employer directory: Name and web addressNominated organisation contact: name, email, telephone number

The trailblazer and potential employer directory organisation should discuss the nomination before this information is submitted.

We have initially asked trailblazers with standards transferring to Ofqual EQA by January 2021 if they want to nominate an organisation for application to the employer directory. We will be in touch with other trailblazers in order of their transition to Ofqual or OfS. However, all trailblazers can nominate an organisation earlier if they wish to do so as the directory will remain open for applications throughout the year.

More than one nomination can be made per standard, especially if it is a core and options standard where different organisations are best placed to provide occupational expertise on each option.

Applications are now open.

Please email us at EQAQueries.IFA@education.gov.uk if you have any queries. We will work closely with you to ensure all the necessary information for our evaluation is submitted.

5. Annex 1: functions

EQA support during delivery

Scrutiny of the end-point assessment and support materials produced by the EPAO

As part of readiness checks, Ofqual or the OfS will undertake a technical review of the assessment materials.

Whilst Ofqual or the OfS will focus on the reliability of the materials from an assessment perspective, they may draw on expertise from the directory of professional and employer-led bodies to support them in ensuring that the materials provide a relevant and up-to-date assessment of occupational competence from an employer perspective.

Insight and intelligence to support prioritisation and targeting of EQA activities

It is expected that employer directory bodies will provide employer-centric insights and intelligence. These may be on developments within their sector germane to the delivery of the end-point assessment for example:

  • changes to workplace practices that may impact upon the standard, end-point assessment plan or end-point assessment materials,
  • or insights and intelligence that will inform prioritisation and targeting of EQA activities including informing the work of Ofqual’s newly developed field team

Operational activity, to confirm that quality end-point assessment continues to deliver occupational competence

As part of ongoing monitoring, Ofqual or the OfS will review end-point assessment delivery in various ways including, but not limited to, the observation of live assessment, including in the case of Ofqual through the field team.

In undertaking this work, they may draw on expertise from the employer directory to confirm that the way end-point assessment materials are being put into practice provides a relevant and up-to-date assessment of occupational competence.

For example:

  • that workplace simulations provide a realistic environment and require apprentices to undertake the sort of tasks that would be undertaken at the level of the occupation
  • expertise from employer directory bodies may contribute here to confirm that apprentices being awarded grades above a pass are genuinely more likely to perform better in the workplace rather than only achieving a higher level of academic attainment.

Support to EPAOs and feedback to employers

Support to EPAOs where specific improvement actions are identified

Where EQA activity by Ofqual or the OfS has identified that an end-point assessment organisation is failing to deliver a particular assessment activity, or the end-point assessment of a particular apprenticeship standard to the appropriate level, the organisation on the employer directory could provide support to the EPAO in question to help them to improve.

Examples may include:

  • supporting the improvement of end-point assessment materials so they accurately reflect sector occupational matters
  • signposting CPD for EPAO staff
  • or assisting with interpretation of the end-point assessment plan

Addressing general trends in end-point assessment delivery that affect all organisations operating across an apprenticeship standard or group of apprenticeship standards

Ofqual or the OfS may draw on employer directory bodies to work alongside them and contribute to EPAO forums, and discussion groups particularly in support of how EQA is used to improve assessment.

Whilst formally outside the activities of the EQA Framework, and further to the function set out above the Institute would also welcome the organisations on the directory working more broadly to create a community of learning and interest among trainers and EPAOs across that apprenticeship standard. This might include organising or participating in forums and workshops with EPAOs to develop and share best practice from an employer’s perspective or working alongside Ofqual and the OfS to improve best practice more broadly. In addition, we would expect organisations on the directory to engage with the relevant trailblazer groups operating in their sector, to feedback advice on the development of new apprenticeship standards gained from their insight in EQA.

Engagement

High-level advice to the Institute

Bodies on the employer directory may be asked to comment on end-point assessment plans for relevant apprenticeship standards.

These are additional activities outside Ofqual or the OfS EQA activity and the information in the payment section of this guidance. These activities would be commissioned and agreed separately with the Institute as required.

Post-delivery evaluation

Evaluation and dissemination

The Institute will formally take the views of employer bodies into account when conducting route reviews of apprenticeship standards and end-point assessment plans.

We also expect that the employer directory bodies will provide feedback and insight out to employers in their sector disseminating findings from EQA providers including in the form of sector-specific reports.

These are additional activities outside Ofqual or the OfS EQA activity and the information in the payment section of this guidance. These activities would be commissioned and agreed separately with the Institute as required.

Mapping to external standards

Confirmation of alignment/mapping to existing professional standards

Whilst outside the scope of EQA, but in support of the apprenticeship programme and the development of technical education more broadly, in some cases, the body in the employer directory may have a role overseeing alignment with an external standard. In these cases, the organisation will confirm when the end-point assessment plan is developed (or reviewed) that this alignment is maintained. They will also confirm that the manner in which the end-point assessment is being delivered on an ongoing basis allows this alignment.

These are additional activities outside Ofqual or the OfS EQA activity and the information in the payment section of this guidance. These activities would be commissioned and agreed separately with the Institute as required.

6. FAQs

For trailblazers:

  • Can I nominate more than one organisation per standard?

              Yes, where a standard would benefit from input from several bodies, the trailblazer should indicate this on their nomination and the reason why. For example, on a core and options standard, the options may need input from different sector bodies.

  • The organisation I want to nominate is already the EPAO / there isn’t an appropriate body for my sector?

If there is an actual or potential conflict of interest which prevents an organisation being nominated and/or there is no appropriate body which exists, the Institute will work with the trailblazer group to ensure sufficient industry input in EQA. For example, by seeking independent expert advisors through the trailblazer group.

For organisations:

  • Our organisation has a subsidiary that is an EPAO, can I apply?

The Institute will need to assess whether this amounts to an actual or potential conflict of interest sufficient to prevent your organisation from being added to the directory before making a decision. Please detail in your application how the subsidiary works, the overlap with the rest of the organisation including the type of information that is shared and set out how / where you will source individuals for EQA activity.

  • I am the EPAO for one standard can I apply for another standard?

The Institute would need to assess whether the conflict of interest is actual or potential and whether sufficient systems can be put in place to allow your organisation to be involved in supporting EQA activity.