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FEQ – the UK’s biggest discussion on apprenticeships

Find out what happened at FEQ – the UK’s biggest ever apprenticeship debate.

FEQ – the UK’s biggest discussion on apprenticeships 

Apprenticeship conference 

Apprenticeships need to be talked about in a big way – and that’s exactly what FEQ is all about.

App4England’s FEQ event at The Emmanuel Centre, London yesterday was the UK’s biggest ever apprenticeship debate. Hundreds of delegates came from across the country to join in – to question the status quo, create a force for good, and talk about the issues faced in the sector today.  

The first session was chaired by Stewart Segal, former chief executive of AELP, who kicked off the debate with a very hot topic – end-point assessment. Stewart sat – David Dimbleby style – in the middle of the first panel: Charlotte Bosworth from Innovate Awarding, Arit Eminue from DiVA Apprenticeships, Tom Bewick from the Federation of Awarding Bodies, Richard Marsh from Kaplan and Sharon Blyfield from Coca-Cola.  

The panel started as a unanimous front when answering the first question; ‘should we still have the EPA or does it need to change?’. Everyone agreed that we need to embrace the EPA – it gives employers, providers and apprentices confidence that the learner is competent in the role. Sharon from Coca-Cola said that they love the EPA and they’re actually using it as a benchmark to measure other employees who aren’t even doing apprenticeships. 

The debate moved to discuss whether apprentices should be expected to start their course when the EPA or EPAO hasn’t been decided – which split the panel a little. Richard Marsh said we just need to be patient. The UK is innovating here – only Canada has a similar structure to their apprenticeships, so we have to give the sector time to get it right. Arit and Charlotte weren’t so positive. Arit didn’t think apprentices should be put on programme without the EPA, but agreed that more needs to be done to get the EPAs off the ground. Some standards are so small, that building and delivering the EPA isn’t commercially viable for organisations. Charlotte agreed. ‘The sector’s gone mad. There are so many standards now – more than the old frameworks – and someone has to put in a lot of work to create and deliver the assessment. It’s out of control.’ 

As an employer, Sharon said that they just had to take a leap of faith and trust that the EPA would be ready by the end of programme – which is fine for 3-year apprenticeships, but a big risk for shorter courses.  

The next few questions led to a shift in dynamic and a strong focus on policy. Tom highlighted the current problem with quality assurance saying; ‘The EQA needs to up its game to make sure our apprenticeships are world-class.’ Richard seconded this, explaining that even Ofsted were behind the times and needed to refocus their assurance policies around learning.  

Charlotte made a controversial point around quality assurance too. Many roles in the sector have changed, and even though they may have the best intentions, employer-providers are struggling and may not have brilliant outcomes when it comes to Ofsted time. She said people should stick to what they know – trust the providers to provide and the EPAOs to assess. This caused a stir in the audience, and one lady kicked back. She works for the ambulance service and said they manage the whole training process in-house with excellent success rates. Perhaps exceptions should be made for really niche training – they're the experts, not the provider, and they’re acing their delivery.  

The next question caused quite a hubbub too: ‘how can we avoid a two-tier quality assurance system?’. The panel immediately said that this two-tier system is already happening – we already have 2, 3, 4 or even 5 different QA systems in place. Tom agreed that the sector needs to create one set of standards for end-point quality assurance, and that there needs to be a compromise between standardisation and flexibility – something we haven’t yet got right.  

Stewart Segal made a good point, saying that although nobody likes Ofsted, it is 1 body that assures an entire sector, so the same needs to be done for EPAOs.  

Sharon from Coca-Cola summed up the issue perfectly; ‘we make soft drinks, we have one quality standard, and it’s the same across the world. Why can’t it be that simple?’.  

To be continued... 

Read all the highlights of panel 2's debate here.  

This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
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