If we agree to your occupation proposal, the next stage is to develop the occupational standard and end-point assessment (EPA) plan and collect funding evidence. Doing these together ensures a coherent package.
All apprentices must take an independent assessment at the end of their training to confirm that they have achieved occupational competence. Rigorous, robust and independent end-point assessment (EPA) is essential to give employers confidence that apprentices completing an apprenticeship standard can actually perform in the occupation they have been trained in and can demonstrate the duties, and knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) set out in the occupational standard.
EPA can take a wide range of forms – it can include assessment methods such as an observation in the workplace, practical and written tests and interviews. It must include a minimum of two distinct assessment methods.
It is the employer’s decision to put an apprentice forward for EPA, once they are confident that their apprentice is ready and that they have completed the minimum time period for their apprenticeship. The employer may, at their discretion, consult with the apprentice and/or training provider(s). An independent third party, who has not been involved in the training or employment of the apprentice, and has no other conflict of interest, will deliver the EPA. The independent third party will need to be an organisation that is registered on the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s (ESFA) register of end-point assessment organisations (RoEPAO) for that apprenticeship standard.
You need to set out your requirements for assessment of occupational competence in an EPA plan. Once agreed by us, the EPA plan is then published on the Institute’s website and end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) will use it to develop assessment tools (such as tests, banks of questions and case study scenarios, controlled observation checklists and professional discussion specifications) and deliver the assessment. Therefore, your EPA plan needs to be written clearly and be comprehensive enough to enable different EPAOs to consistently design assessment tools that are valid, reliable, comparable, manageable, affordable and accessible. There must be no room for misinterpretation. This is important as it ensures that all apprentices are judged robustly and fairly to the same level and against the same criteria, no matter which organisation delivers the actual EPA. EPAOs are required to deliver the EPA as it is set out in the EPA plan. This is a condition of them entering and remaining on the RoEPAO.
The ESFA will not fund apprentices to start on a new apprenticeship standard until an EPAO has given an ‘in principle’ commitment to deliver the EPA. To support this you need to engage with potential EPAOs early in the apprenticeship standard development process.
Your product manager (PM) can lead a workshop to help you develop your EPA.
You need to use apprenticeship builder to develop your occupational standard and EPA plan. You also use it to submit them to the approvals process, along with your funding evidence and any supporting evidence.
Any information entered in apprenticeship builder at the occupational standard that is needed for the EPA plan will carry through.
The assessment methods must be fit for purpose and appropriate to the content of the occupational profile. They must include a mixture of valid assessment methods that will lead to a synoptic EPA that truly measures occupational competence. This is underpinned by having at least one synoptic assessment method (a method that tests a combination of knowledge, skills and behaviours)
Evaluate the assessment methods proposed against the occupational profile, duties and KSBs to determine whether the assessment methods, if taken together, will ascertain full occupational competence has been reached
Evaluate whether there is sufficient information in the EPA plan for the EPAOs to develop and deliver valid assessment tools
The assessment methodology and tools used must ensure that employers can have confidence that apprentices assessed in different places, at different times, by different assessors have been judged in the same way and to have therefore reached the same standard of occupational competence.
Check that the assessment methodology and tools required will optimally assess the stated KSBs
Check that the description of assessment methods contains enough detail for different EPAOs to develop and deliver comparable assessment in different places and times
The organisation delivering the assessment and the individual assessors making assessment decisions must ensure independence. For integrated degree apprenticeships the organisation does not have to be independent but the individual assessor must be.
Check that the EPA plan clearly sets out how independence will be ensured for both the organisation and individual assessors
Apprenticeships should be graded using at least one level (merit or distinction) above pass for the EPA as a whole.
Confirm that the EPA plan includes at least one grade above pass and that these are appropriately described, clearly showing what an apprentice would need to do to achieve each grade
Confirm that the outcomes of assessment methods are graded sufficiently to ensure the EPA can be graded appropriately
Confirm that a grading exemption has been granted where appropriate
Confirm the grading descriptors are appropriate and can be interpreted consistently.
Feasibility, manageability, and affordability within the constraints of funding policy.
Use our experience of other EPA plans to check whether the assessments can be practically delivered within the defined constraints and to the specified scale at reasonable cost
Enables EPAOs to make reasonable adjustments for conducting an EPA in compliance with equality legislation.
Check that none of the assessment methods proposed make it impossible to make reasonable adjustments
Your PM can lead and facilitate a workshop to help you develop your EPA Plan. The aim of these workshops is for your group, with PM support, to work on the detail of the EPA plan before sharing with the rest of the group for comment. To speed things up, we ask attendees to think about key questions before workshop. Looking at other recently published EPA plans may also be useful, in particular for similar roles, levels and occupational field. However, avoid coming to workshops with pre-conceived ideas about the structure of the EPA. Each EPA plan needs to be individually designed and appropriate for the occupation.
You may want to consult widely on the EPA plan to give employers and other relevant organisations who have not been directly involved in your trailblazer group an opportunity to input. Whilst good practice, consulting organisations beyond the trailblazer group membership on your EPA plan is not compulsory. You will need to leave some time to reflect on any comments you receive and build in any changes you then want to make to your EPA plan.
The gateway refers to the requirements that need to be met in order for the employer to put forward their apprentice for EPA. It ensures that all apprentices have completed the mandatory aspects of the occupational standard and any work that underpins specified assessment methods and that employers believe an apprentice is occupationally competent at the point they enter the gateway.
The EPA takes place when all the on-programme training has been completed and after the gateway has been passed. It should only start once the employer is confident that the apprentice is occupationally competent, that is, they are deemed to be working at or above the level set out in the occupational standard and ready to undertake an EPA. The employer may seek input from the apprentice’s training provider(s) in making this decision, but the decision must ultimately rest with the employer.
The EPA plan must set out any gateway requirements to be completed or achieved before an apprentice can undertake an EPA. This section of your EPA plan must cover:
The EPA plan must only mandate or reference the exact qualifications that have been agreed for inclusion within the occupational standard. It must not include content that is not included in the occupational standard.
Work completed prior to the gateway can be used to support an assessment method but cannot be an assessment method in its own right. This includes logbooks, portfolios, projects or similar that are completed during the apprenticeship, and may be useful tools to support assessment methods, for example a presentation.
This section of the EPA plan should set out the assessment methods which will be used to assess the apprentice with sufficient detail to ensure that all apprentices are tested using the same assessment methods in a consistent and comparable way.
In the EPA plan you need to provide a rationale as to why you have selected each of the assessment methods. It is important here that you consider how valid the assessment methods are in relation to the occupational role. This section provides guidance on the different available assessment methods. There is a guide in the resources section, which provides further information on the issues that need to be considered with each assessment method.
The EPA plan must include at least two different assessment methods and at least one of these must assess the KSBs in the occupational standard synoptically (that is, it tests some knowledge, some skills and some behaviours). In the example below, the observation is assessing some knowledge, behaviours and skills. It does not need to assess every KSB because these will be covered by other assessment methods.
KSB to be assessed by this ASSESSMENT method
Knowledge K1-K6 and K9.
Knowledge K7-K8 and K10; Skills S1-S8; Behaviours B2-B4 and B7
Skills S9-S10; Behaviours B5-B6 and B9
You should aim for a mix of assessment methods that will deliver the most valid assessment of an apprentice’s occupational competence across the occupational standard with each assessment method assessing a distinct sub-set of KSBs.
Check that each KSB is mapped to an assessment method and ensure that KSBs are only assessed by one method unless there is a strong rationale to test them in more than one such as any that are considered risk critical.
This section of the EPA plan should describe how you want each assessment method to be delivered and the parameters which EPAOs must follow when they develop and deliver assessment. For example, parameters include setting out how long apprentices will be given to undertake tasks, or the minimum number of questions they will be asked in an interview. This will help ensure that all apprentices undertake comparable EPA. Giving parameters to assessment methods is important as otherwise some apprentices could be given unfair advantages, face additional assessment burdens or be measured against a different standard of competence. Apprenticeship builder will ask for key assessment method parameters when this section of the EPA plan is being written.
Consider if the assessment methods require anything to be agreed or produced before the EPA period, for example, agreement of project title and scope, collation of portfolio. These will become gateway requirements (and be entered in the gateway section of the plan – see above). Identify any parameters for the gateway requirements, for example, who needs to agree the project title or what a portfolio must contain.
Identify the typical length of the EPA period, ensuring it is long enough for all the assessment methods to be completed. It is also important that there is sufficient time to enable resits and retakes of assessment method (s) to be undertaken within the scope of the EPA period.
Our assessment method guide provides more information on each different assessment method: what it is, what it is suitable for, what it is not suitable for and what detail you should include in your EPA plan.
We have also created an animation for apprentices to help them understand the different assessment methods.
Assessment methods (or components of assessment methods) can be:
A portfolio of work completed either before or after the gateway, cannot be used as an assessment method in its own right. However, it can be used as the basis for an assessment method. For example, an interview that draws on evidence contained in a portfolio, in which case the interview (and not the portfolio) will be assessed as part of the EPA. In this scenario, the portfolio can be collected at any point during the apprenticeship. Where the portfolio needs to be compiled during the on-programme phase (pre-gateway), it must be detailed as a gateway requirement (against the assessment method it will support) to ensure that all apprentices complete it.
Direct evidence of occupational competence is the most robust, independent source of information available to an independent assessor. Appraisals from peers and managers can’t be used as an assessment method in their own right because they do not represent the opinion of the independent assessor. However, they could be used as part of a portfolio. Self-reflective accounts should not be used as part of any assessment method or within any submitted element which underpins the EPA (for example portfolio).
An assessment method can combine one or more assessment components to strengthen it. For example, a practical test combined with a follow-up question and answer session will allow the candidate to demonstrate a wide range of KSBs. Similarly, a project could be supplemented by a presentation and questioning. Where more than one assessment component is combined to test the same set of KSBs, it only represents one assessment method.
To identify the best assessment methods, consider which assessment methods are reflective of how the occupation is conducted. In many cases, a practical observation in the workplace will be the most valid means of assessing whether an apprentice is occupationally competent, and this should ideally form part of your EPA. The high validity of the practical observation assessment method means it should be the first assessment method that you consider. However, there will be some occupations where this is not the case, either because the skills are not explicitly observable, or because the work takes place over a longer timeframe than it would be feasible to observe. In these instances, you will need to consider using a simulated work environment instead and finally alternative assessment methods if this is not viable.
Some points to consider when choosing the right mix of assessment methods:
An important consideration throughout the EPA plan should be the feasibility of an EPAO being able to implement and deliver EPA activity. There are a number of areas that will have significant delivery implications for EPAOs and by applying a considered approach to these relevant areas, then the resulting EPA plan will become more desirable and manageable for EPAOs to implement.
You should consider whether the EPA could be conducted in the workplace or at an assessment centre. The most valid observations will occur in the apprentice’s workplace; however this may not always be possible. In making these decisions, you will need to think about feasibility; the appropriateness and safety of conducting observations in all workplaces that apprentices may work in; whether test centres will be readily available across the country; and apprentices with access requirements.
You should also consider the use of technology – online tests, video conferencing and e-portfolios can all be very effective and reduce the time and cost involved. You also need to think about practicality and accessibility, to ensure that assessment methods are equally accessible to large and small employers and apprentices with access requirements (for example, offering a paper alternative to an online test or vice versa may help to increase accessibility or allowing EPAs to occur in a location that has been adapted for an apprentice’s needs).
You should specify that the assessment methods can be undertaken in a flexible order to enable EPAO scheduling, unless there is a strong rationale for doing otherwise.
You need to think about cost when you are choosing the number and type of assessment methods and setting the requirements. For example, multiple-choice tests tend to be more efficient to deliver as they can be marked cheaply compared to open answer questions, although they have relatively high set-up costs and require appropriate apprentice numbers to make this viable for an EPAO. On the other hand, more open test questions may allow assessment of higher-level knowledge or skills in more depth. Also, consider the associated activities in delivering EPA (for example, the time an assessor spends preparing to deliver the EPA, marking, the costs of standardisation and moderation). If you decide to use an expensive assessment method, this should be because it is the most valid assessment method available.
This section of the plan must set out how grades for individual assessment methods will be awarded and how those grades are combined to determine the overall apprenticeship standard grade.
Apprenticeship standards should have at least one grade above a pass, to recognise exceptional performance across the occupational standard. For example, ‘pass and distinction’ or ‘pass, merit and distinction.’ A pass must represent full occupational competence in the occupation, with higher grades representing greater proficiency in the KSBs in the occupational standard.
You must use the grading terminology ‘fail’, ‘pass’, ‘merit’ and ‘distinction'.
Apprentices must pass each assessment method of their EPA in order to achieve an overall pass grade. For example, in an EPA that has an observation and test, apprentices must pass both of these methods in order to achieve an overall pass grade in their apprenticeship. A fail in any one assessment method will result in an overall fail grade in their apprenticeship standard.
We would normally expect all individual assessment methods to have a grade(s) available above pass i.e. merit and/or distinction, with achievement of such determining if a grade above pass is awarded. However, the absolute minimum is that at least one individual assessment method must be graded above a pass. If only one assessment method is graded above a pass, it must be the synoptic assessment method (the one that assesses some knowledge, skills and behaviours). In an EPA with a synoptic project and test, the project could be graded fail, pass, distinction, with the test only graded fail, pass. In this example, performance in the project alone would determine whether an apprenticeship standard distinction is awarded.
Discuss and determine how many grades will be used (for example ‘pass, distinction’ or ‘pass, merit or distinction’), but be prepared to change this decision if the chosen assessment methods do not distinguish sufficiently between apprentices being able to show meaningful progression between these grades.
For each individual assessment method, you must include clear grading descriptors in your EPA plan. These set out what is required of an apprentice to achieve each assessment method grade that you specify (including fail where necessary). When setting out the grading descriptors, check that they are sufficiently detailed to ensure consistent interpretation. Avoid using subjective words open to interpretation, such as ‘good’, ‘excellent’ or ‘in-depth’ without examples of what they mean. Grade descriptors are not required to be included for multiple choice question test methods.
In core and option apprenticeship standards, each option will require its own grading descriptors for each assessment method. This is to reflect the fact that apprentices in different options, will demonstrate core KSBs and option KSBs in accordance with their option’s occupation. For example, equine grooms will all need to have KSBs related to working with horses, but apprentices working in different settings (options) will demonstrate these quite differently. Assessment methods that are related to core KSBs, which are not affected by the occupational option, can be used for apprentices working in different options.
Group the duties and KSBs tested by each assessment method into ‘themes’, subjects or areas of KSBs to be assessed). For each theme (for example, health and safety), identify what must be demonstrated by the apprentice in that assessment method to show they are occupationally competent (specifically, state what meeting particular KSBs will look like in reality). Read through the pass descriptor to check that they can be applied consistently and describe an employee who is occupationally competent.
For the next grade above a pass (merit or distinction), determine what the apprentice will need to demonstrate for each ‘theme’ in each assessment method in order to prove they are working at a higher level of competence than those working at pass grade. Do not introduce new duties or KSBs, as these should be present in the pass grade. Read the grading descriptor for this grade against that for the pass grade to determine that they are covering the same area of the occupation but require an apprentice to demonstrate a clear difference in quality of performance. If using a second grade above a pass (for example a distinction), repeat the approach above (but consider this grading descriptor against the previous two grading descriptors). It is not essential to create merit and distinction descriptors for each KSB attached to an assessment method, where these grades are desired. There can be certain KSBs that can only be classed at a fail or pass level. When approaching the design of merit and distinction descriptors it can be beneficial to reflect upon the specific aspects of KSBs where excellent staff members show a higher level of performance within the occupational role; when compared to others who would be classed as competent but not outstanding.
You must include a fail grade descriptor. It may be as simple as stating the pass descriptor has not been reached. If you wish to define the pass/fail boundary more clearly, include fail descriptors that indicate the best level of performance that is insufficient to meet the pass standard. Be careful not to leave a gap between the two grades; an independent assessor will need to know on which side on the pass/fail boundary to assign the apprentice.
You may stipulate a pass mark for each grade. EPAOs will have to ensure that this pass mark represents occupational competence as described in the pass grade descriptor. It is vital therefore that the pass grade descriptor clearly sets out what needs to be demonstrated to confirm full occupational competence.
We recommend that assessment methods have equal weighting to enable a simple process of grading of the whole EPA. However, you may have a specific rationale for wanting weighting to be applied across different methods. In this situation, you should think carefully about how this will work in practice and avoid any unintended consequences whereby an apprentice’s overall grade could be skewed by doing particularly well, or badly, in one assessment method. Applying different weighting to assessment methods can make the grading of the whole EPA complicated, so consider how to keep weighting simple and easy to apply by different EPAOs.
The grades from each assessment method must be aggregated to obtain an apprentice’s overall EPA grade. Where all of the individual assessment methods do not have a grade above pass, you must still aggregate the grades together to obtain grades for the overall EPA, which must include a grade above pass. Apprentices must pass each assessment method of the EPA to achieve a pass overall. You must clearly specify how each possible combination of assessment grades translates into an overall EPA grade.
If you do not think grading is appropriate in your occupation and cannot grade the entire EPA or at least the synoptic assessment method within it beyond pass/fail, you will need to submit a grading exemption request. Your request must be supported by written evidence, including links to the relevant legislation or professional registration requirements, confirming that assessments are aligned with one of the following:
There is no guarantee that a grading exemption request will be granted. Each exemption will only apply to that particular apprenticeship standard. Requests for grading exemptions should be made when you submit your EPA plan for approval.
This section of the plan sets out the policy that will apply to apprentices who fail all or part of their EPA to ensure that they have equal opportunity to re-take or re-sit some or all of the assessment.
A re-take involves a need for further learning before an assessment is taken, while a re-sit does not. Funding of re-takes is detailed in the ESFA funding rules. You should outline any re-sit/re-take requirements you have in the EPA plan, covering the EPA as a whole, and also its constituent parts. Particular attention should be given when handling any methods that require significant EPA time commitments (for example projects) within a re-sit or re-take scenario; where the need to extend the EPA window should be minimised.
Apprentices who achieve a pass grade cannot re-sit/re-take the EPA simply to achieve a higher grade. However, beyond this, you can stipulate conditions for re-sits/re-takes as long as they are fair and justified. For apprentices who do not pass first time, you should consider whether it is appropriate to cap an apprentice’s grade at ‘pass’ where they are re-sitting or re-taking an assessment. Apprentices whose re-sits/re-takes are due to failing the EPA because of extenuating circumstances (for example illness) should have all grades available to them.
An apprentice’s employer decides how many attempts an apprentice may have to pass an EPA.
The EPA should be an independent assessment of an apprentice’s competence. The decision on whether an apprentice has passed their EPA and what their final grade should be, must be taken by someone who has no vested interest in this decision or relationship to the apprentice. This will ensure that all apprentices are treated fairly and helps to maintain trust in the robustness of the EPA system.
EPA must be conducted by an independent EPAO, which must be on the register of end-point assessment organisations. EPAOs will employ independent assessors. Your EPA plan must detail the knowledge, skills and experience that you expect independent assessors to have, within the internal quality assurance section. This information will form part of the basis of the evaluation of applications that prospective EPAOs make to join the RoEPAO. It will also play a key factor within the recruitment and selection of independent assessors by EPAOs. Although it is important that these requirements are robust, they should not have the effect of limiting the market to a specific EPAO or making delivery of the EPA practically unfeasible.
An assessor must be independent and will make the final grading decisions, subject to moderation by the EPAO. Your EPA must be designed so that no organisation or individual connected to the apprentice, or who has been involved in the management or training of the apprentice, can be their assessor (that is to say there must be no conflict of interest). An independent assessor must not be employed by the same organisation as the apprentice or by their training provider. The approach you describe in your EPA plan must clearly deliver an impartial result. You must clearly describe how independence will be achieved for all employers, regardless of their size.
The EPA must still deliver an impartial result – an assessor must be independent of the apprentice and their employer, drawn from the occupation and outside of the EPAO, for example, a professional body or another employer.
Employers have an important role in assessing competency and they have a key responsibility at the gateway in signing off the apprentice as ready to undertake EPA. However, it is not seen as appropriate for employers to be directly involved in EPA assessment methods because their independence is compromised.
Where a work-based project forms part of the EPA, it may be appropriate for the employer to be involved in agreeing the scope of this project to ensure that it adds value to the business. However, the EPAO would also need to agree the scope of the project to ensure that it is comparable to other projects and meets all the requirements of EPA for the apprenticeship standard. Consider the scale of the apprenticeship and whether it would be more expedient for the EPAO to produce project specifications that employers can use to devise projects that meet EPA requirements, rather than the EPAO signing-off each individual project.
There may be a small number of situations where only one body is able to award professional status because, for example, they have a legal responsibility or act as the regulator for that profession or there is some other statutory requirement (for example, the role of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency in the case of Able Seafarer). In these cases, it may be possible for this body to be named in the EPA plan (subject to the specific wording of its Royal Charter). Even if an organisation is named in this way, it will still also need to apply to be on the RoEPAO once the EPA plan has been published if it wishes to be an EPAO.
If the EPA needs to be conducted by someone who has an appropriate level of professional registration from a relevant professional body, you should make these requirements clear in the EPA plan, and you will need to provide a letter of support from the professional body, confirming that they require this for professional registration alignment.
This section of the plan sets out what measures an EPAO should take to quality assure their delivery of EPA and ensures that all organisations providing EPA across an apprenticeship standard have the same quality assurance measures in place.
Each EPA plan must set out measures for internal quality assurance that each EPAO will need to undertake to ensure quality and consistency. This must include assessor experience, qualifications, training, and checks.
The internal quality assurance (IQA) is carried out by the EPAO. It involves making sure that it is undertaking individual assessments correctly and is assuring others (including funding bodies and employers) that it is effectively delivering (including applying reasonable adjustments), standardising, marking and reporting the outcome of the assessments properly.
Robust IQA measures to ensure the EPA is applied consistently must include:
External quality assurance (EQA) is needed to support improvement and ensure that there is a consistency of quality and approach to EPA across an apprenticeship standard, regardless of which EPAO has delivered the EPA.
We consulted in February 2020 on simplifying the EQA system for apprenticeship standards.
From summer 2022, EQA for apprenticeship standards will be delivered by either:
In the apprenticeship builder, you will need to nominate either Ofqual or OfS to undertake EQA of your apprenticeship standard.
EQA will be carried out in line with our EQA framework and supported by input from professional and employer-led bodies. Trailblazer groups should nominate organisations for entry to the Directory of Professional and Employer-led Bodies to support EQA activity by emailing EQAQueries.IFA@education.gov.uk
Detailed guidance on the EQA process is on the EQA webpage.
Flexibilities were introduced as options to support the delivery of apprenticeship end-point assessments through Covid-19.
Flexibilities are about helping to ensure there is fair opportunity to achieve EPA in an efficient and effective manner without changing the expected assessment and grading outcomes included in the published assessment plan.
The Institute has engaged extensively with the sector to listen to everyone’s views on what impact the flexibilities have had. This took the shape of a far-reaching survey, commissioned research targeting apprentices and employers, and speaking to end point assessment organisations (EPAOs), training providers, trailblazer groups and representative bodies. This engagement, along with considering other relevant factors (including the need to ensure value for money and quality of apprenticeship training), has informed our decisions on which flexibilities to retain.
For those flexibilities which are retained the general principles and specific parameters around their use are defined in the flexibility framework. This is to make sure quality, value for money and the needs of employers and apprentices are taken into account when making judgements of occupational competence.
The flexibility framework is published on our website and has been developed to ensure quality and consistency is maintained across EPAOs.
It only applies to those end-point assessment plans published before 1 April 2022. End-point assessment plans published on or after the 1 April 2022 should have these flexibilities considered during their development and be built into the published version where applicable.