IfATE Consultations on Funding Bands and External Quality Assurance
Energy & Utility Skills has recently submitted responses to two IfATE consultations on funding bands and external quality assurance on behalf of the energy and utilities sector.
The IfATE consultation on funding bands included detailed questions on the funding formula, but it is the big picture that is worrying. Whichever approach is adopted from those discussed in the consultation, the net impact particularly for apprenticeship standards in the energy and utilities sector is a significant reduction in funding, typically between 30% and 50%.
This change to apprenticeship funding was launched pre COVID-19, but there is now the added dimension of the potential impact on economic recovery of such cuts. The Prime Minister’s statement “I think it is going to be vital that we guarantee apprenticeships for young people” (COVID-19 briefing, 4th June) may lead to a re-think, but as it stands, the proposed changes to funding could be a threat to apprenticeships.
The next step for this consultation is that IfATE will be carrying out further consultations with a refined funding model.
The IfATE consultation on external quality assurance (EQA) proposes simplifying the current system. There are currently numerous EQA providers of various kinds, some professional bodies, some sector skills councils and some regulated awarding organisations, and yet they are all required to assure the validity of apprenticeship awarding decisions. One of the mantras of valid assessment is consistent and comparable judgement, and the existence of many EQA providers prompts the question “Who regulates the regulators?”. The simplified EQA proposed replaces the numerous EQA providers with Ofqual, as the single EQA provider for non-degree apprenticeships – a step that removes the consistency and comparability concern. This is felt to be a benefit for the whole apprenticeship system, and one that puts the rigour of apprenticeship assessment on a par with the rigour in the assessment of general qualifications.
The proposal is not without its challenges – the transition of all EQA activity to one body calls for a massive increase in Ofqual’s capacity, and if you view external quality assurance as a service designed to support EPAOs, there are bound to be questions over the quality of that service.
The consultation also proposes that professional and employer-led bodies will contribute to “scrutiny of the assessment and support materials” and provide “operational input to confirm that quality assessment continues to deliver occupational competence”. We are keen to understand how this new approach will work with EPAOs, who are responsible for valid assessment.