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AELP National Conference, 27 June 2023

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

My colleagues have been here today and yesterday at workshops listening to your experiences as providers which has been incredibly valuable for us. So thank you sharing your examples, real world examples and challenges as well. As the statutory regulator, it is our job to make sure that the qualifications and assessments that are in our remit are awarded consistently and fairly, and that students’ and apprentices’ interests are protected. I know that the quality of apprenticeship end point assessments, and functional skills qualifications, are particularly important to you all, so I am going to focus in on those today, finishing with a brief look ahead to the issuing of exam results this summer, given the time of year. It is a very important time of year for Ofqual.

I was really interested to read AELP’s recent research looking at approaches to raising apprenticeship achievement rates, and more recently your member survey which provided some useful insights on the sector’s experiences of end point assessment. I am pleased to say that we are following up on many of those thoughts and recommendations, particularly around the considerations around demand and availability of end point assessment. So more on that in a moment.

Functional Skills

Let’s start then with reformed Functional Skills, which I know has been a key topic of discussion over the last couple of days. DfE is of course responsible for setting the English and maths requirements for apprenticeships, and for setting the subject content of reformed functional skills qualifications, but there is a lot for Ofqual to consider as well in terms of the quality of the assessments themselves and how they are delivered by awarding organisations.

As many of you will be aware, we have been evaluating our regulatory approach to these qualifications. Thank you to those of you who took the time to share your views with us. I’m pleased to say we had nearly 600 providers respond to our surveys, and over 250 student responses as well. Having your views and insight has been critical to help us gather perceptions of the reformed qualifications and to understand the value of them in the labour market.

The aim of this work has been to get a better understanding of the views of all those involved with the qualifications, from every perspective. As well as those surveys with students and providers, we are also hosting focus groups with employers, students and awarding organisations, as well as undertaking an analysis of the qualifications themselves, a desk review of relevant policy documentation, and market and data analysis.

We are hearing your concerns about the level of demand of Functional Skills in English and maths. We monitor the performance and delivery of these qualifications carefully and take seriously what we have been hearing. We expect all awarding organisations to keep their assessments under review and to respond to relevant feedback. We have got a working group comprising all those AOs offering Functional Skills Qualifications and are in close dialogue with them throughout this process.

We are also working closely with the Department for Education throughout the evaluation, who have been checking themselves that the reformed subject content covers the English and maths knowledge and skills required. Our evaluation findings are being considered in the context of the government’s ‘Maths to 18’ initiative. And we are open minded about where it will lead us, and once complete, we will consider any potential implications for our regulations. You can expect to hear more about this work and our initial findings in the autumn.


Moving on to apprenticeships then, I mentioned AELP’s research earlier and the report highlighted some issues observed by training providers, such as the inconsistency in approaches taken by awarding organisations to end point assessment. Some providers found that different awarding organisations could interpret assessment plans differently, making it harder to prepare apprentices for EPA. The report acknowledged, I’m pleased to read, that the transition to Ofqual regulation would help to ensure that awarding organisations are aware of and address issues around consistency across EPAs, and that the sector could expect to see improvement as a result. This is right – Ofqual’s increased involvement in EPAs does mean that we can employ our regulatory levers to address some of these issues.

We know there is variation in the system. Variation is not in itself harmful. An appropriate level of variance across any qualification, including EPA, supports customer choice and can drive up quality, or enable innovation. However, it is not helpful where the lack of consistency, or unhelpful ambiguity, is used as an excuse to lower standards, or where it negatively impacts apprentices. We will play our role in these instances. We will check awarding organisations are putting apprentices first and providing valid and reliable assessments. We will continue to facilitate discussions between awarding organisations to drive up quality and provide peer-to-peer challenge. We continue to provide feedback to IfATE on areas where the assessment plan itself could be improved.

The assessment plan developed by employers and approved by IfATE is of course an important blueprint for high-quality end point assessment – we do, however, expect awarding organisations to apply their own sectoral and technical assessment design expertise in interpreting it.

In our regulation of EPA, we are aiming to fully understand the quality of assessments being offered to apprentices and their experience of them. Our field team engages awarding organisations directly and takes time to understand their approaches. An important part of this team’s role is to travel to the wide variety of places where assessment is being carried out and observe apprentices being assessed directly. From military bases, to different types of workshop, through to a working crew boat, the team has been welcomed by training providers, awarding organisations and employers, who I know understand how important it is for Ofqual to observe assessments in the field.

This monitoring has yielded examples of both good and poor practice. We have seen some awarding organisations take a very proactive approach to understanding the delivery of assessment. This could include a thorough review of anything submitted at gateway, to ensuring that reasonable adjustments are considered and applied appropriately, consistently, and across all modes of assessment. Conversely, we continue to see risks to reliability from awarding organisations who appear to have poor quality control over their assessors and the assessment environment. We have also seen examples of poor customer service. We take any issues we see when we visit very seriously and the awarding organisation gets immediate feedback as well as potentially further follow up action. This also helps us to build our risk profile of individual awarding organisations which feeds into our plans for ongoing monitoring.

We have heard the sector’s concerns about the availability and scheduling of end point assessments, and are working closely with DfE as they seek to understand how the data flow between awarding organisations and training providers is working and how it may be improved. We want greater visibility for awarding organisations of the apprentices coming on programme, so that End Point Assessments can be more readily anticipated and therefore more easily scheduled and better available at the point the assessment is due. We can then make sure that the awarding organisations are ready to deliver.

I know the sector is keen to see as much transparency as possible to understand how apprenticeships are working. We publish information on trends we’ve seen across end point assessments in an annual delivery report, which is available on our website. We will also publish for the first time this summer a statistical report detailing emerging trends in EPA outcomes. In addition to these publications and our field observations, we will be establishing an apprenticeship provider reference group made up of providers that offer apprenticeships.

It will focus on matters affecting apprenticeship providers – such as the quality and availability of EPA, interactions with awarding organisations, and insights from Ofqual’s regulation of EPA. It will be an opportunity for providers to share their experiences and observations, and to ask us questions. We’re keen to ensure that members come from a wide range of providers so if you are interested in being part of this group, please do register your interest – AELP have kindly agreed to share details of how to sign up in their email after the conference.

VTQ Results

Finally, I want to just briefly look ahead to results this August, given we are now at the end of June and the summer series of exams and assessments is almost totally complete. We have made good progress against the Level 3 Vocational and Technical Qualifications Results Action Plan, which we introduced in December, following some delayed results in some VTQs last summer.

We recently published, for the first time ever, the fact that more than 334,000 results for level 3 vocational and technical qualifications are due to be released this August, in a move that marks the first significant step towards parity of treatment between A levels and Level 3 VTQs. Every year A level entries are published, but this is the first year that similar data has been published for VTQs. It is the culmination of 2,500 schools and colleges in England confirming with awarding organisations which of their students expect to get VTQ results this summer.

We have just passed the second new deadline for awarding organisations as part of our action plan, which means that they have now agreed with providers the evidence and information that is still needed for students to receive a result in August.

Taken together, with work in train to improve the flow of data from awarding organisations to UCAS this summer too, these actions will address, we hope, the issues we saw playing out last summer. Bringing forward quality assurance processes into term-time is a significant change in how many vocational and technical qualifications have operated historically. We’ve heard how these new checks have helped awarding organisations and training providers identify problems and find solutions in advance of results days. Ultimately, the measures the awarding organisations are taking, seek to ensure students receive correct and complete results this summer, enabling them to progress, which is something I’m sure we all support.


To conclude, I hope you can see from all that I have said, that the interests of students and apprentices are our true north. We want to continue to work with the whole sector to ensure that qualifications and assessments work for them, and are as fair, valid and reliable as they can possibly be. If you’re interested in joining our new Apprenticeship Provider Reference Group, please do register your interest when the link is shared after the conference.

Thank you.

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