NCFE on end-point assessments: A new vantage point

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David Gallagher, managing director of NCFE Apprenticeship Services, discusses the increasing  importance of end-point assessment to apprenticeship quality

As insightful and diverse as my experience in the UK skills sector has been, nothing has provided such rapid insights into the quality of programmes, as my first six months leading apprenticeship end-point assessment (EPA) at NCFE.

EPA has become the day-to-day acid test of whether the teaching, learning and development of an apprentice has met the expected standard. Unlike the infrequent visits of Ofsted, or external quality assurance that is one step removed from learners, EPA organisations stand at a new vantage point in the apprenticeship system. The impartiality and objectivity of EPA organisations, combined with their continuous, direct engagement with apprentices, offer deep insights for raising the value of apprenticeships.

As with any radical change, the early days of EPA have presented plenty of challenges and the system is going through a period of adjustment. At NCFE, we’ve invested heavily in creating a programme of support that equips training providers and employers to ensure the success of their apprentices. Here are some of the things we’ve learned so far.

Begin with the end in mind

Training providers and employers are not always clear what the ‘end’ of an apprenticeship really entails. Even more worrying are the odd occasions where the apprenticeship standard and assessment plan have not been understood at all, until it’s too late.

Imagine yourself as a learner driver, fast approaching the day of your test. Imagine you don’t fully understand the manoeuvres to be undertaken, or even some of the most basic laws of the road. How would you rate your chance of passing? It seems incomprehensible that one could be so ill-prepared for an impending test. But in apprenticeships, this does happen—something we’re trying to change at NCFE.

To give apprentices the best possible chance of success, it’s crucial that training providers, employers and apprentices have a comprehensive understanding of what the EPA looks like. And while EPA organisations cannot teach providers or apprentices how to ‘pass the test’, it’s a core part of our role to provide all of the relevant information to inform programme design and delivery from the very beginning.

In such a rapidly changing environment, the challenge of maintaining up-to-date knowledge of the standard, assessment plan and the details of the EPA itself cannot be underestimated.

At NCFE, we care about the success of your apprentices as much as you do, while maintaining our impartiality and the integrity of EPA. We believe that training providers, employers and EPA organisations working together as trusted partners is key to delivering the benefits of the new system, which is why we’re investing in building partnerships across the sector.

Based on our early experiences of providing EPA, we’re already convinced that the greatest success will be enjoyed by the training providers and employers who design and follow a new type of ‘framework’ for delivering apprenticeships. A framework that assesses the starting point of an apprentice’s journey against the knowledge, skills and behaviours from the standard, maps out a detailed, personalised programme of delivery, and tracks and monitors progress throughout the programme to give apprentices the best possible chance of success.

Our new apprenticeship system has great potential to deliver the economic and social benefits that were envisioned at the outset of the apprenticeship reform agenda. It is apparent to me that the key to realising these benefits can be found in a mix of time-served approaches and innovative new ideas, partnerships and the relentless pursuit of quality. As we gain further insight at NCFE, we’ll continue to share our learning with our customers and the wider apprenticeships sector in the hope that we can play a big part in delivering a world class apprenticeship system that we can all be proud of.

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