PAL welcomes the recently announced temporary substitutions for some of the Retail and Hospitality assessment plans. This article answers some of the burning questions around the implementation of the substitutions.
What are assessment substitutions?
Assessment substitutions have been approved for a range of standards where observation is an essential aspect of the end-point assessment. See the IfATE list for the standards subject to substitutions.
Assessment substitutions are designed to offer alternatives to observations, so apprentices currently in assessment, or about to enter gateway have the opportunity to complete their apprenticeship.
The substitutions are interim measures and as such assessment plans will not detail the arrangements and the measures will be removed, once it is safe and practical for observed assessments to take place.
Why have the assessment substitutions been introduced?
The current working restrictions applied to many roles and sectors as a result of Covid-19 means that apprentices who are ready for assessment are not able to complete their apprenticeship where observation is an integral part of the end-point assessment. IfATE, along with the respective External Quality Assurance Providers (EQAPs), has responded to requests for assessment flexibilities for some standards to support apprenticeship completions.
Why has it taken so long to get some of the substitutions approved?
Any change to assessments, firstly, has to demonstrate the assessment alternatives are valid and reliable and do not advantage or disadvantage apprentices who have either undertaken the assessment, as per the assessment plan, or have opted for the alternative assessment. IfATE and the respective EQAP, must ensure that there is support and a genuine need for such changes and secure the endorsement for the changes from a range of stakeholders.
Who has approved the assessment substitutions?
Assessment substitutions have to be approved by IfATE- Quality and Assessment Board; the relevant IfATE route panel; the relevant EQAP (external quality assurance provider); where applicable sector or professional associations or boards for the specific sector; trailblazer group and representing employer groups have endorsed the assessment amendments. Selected Training Providers and EPAOs assessing the standards have also been consulted.
How long will the assessment substitutions be in place?
In the majority of cases, the assessment alternatives do not have a stated cut-off date as currently, it is difficult to judge when people will be able to return to their work, in some ‘normal’ way. Equally, it is appreciated some sectors will commence more standard operations before others. What is clear, is the interim arrangements can only be used where Covid-19 prohibits observed assessments, once this barrier is removed, the assessment amendments will cease.
Do the assessment substitutions permit remote assessment?
The simple answer is yes and the EQAPs will instruct the EPAOs as to the evidence requirements in respect of assessment quality and assessment methodology.
Some assessment plans require a defined sequence of assessments, will this still be the case?
It is worth checking the guidance issued by the EQAP and EPAO, but in the majority of cases, the requirement for a prescribed assessment sequence has been temporarily relaxed. Equally some standards require the employer presence, where this is viable and possible, using digital technology. EPAOs will seek to support such arrangements, alternatively, they will seek validation via other methods
Will the other aspects of assessment remain the same, and as described in the assessment plan?
In nearly all cases, the other assessment activities will remain as stated in the assessment plan and the apprentice is expected to undertake these activities and achieve the minimum pass requirements, to be certificated.
How will assessments be graded using the assessment substitutions?
It is advisable you check with the EPAO and read the EQAP guidance. However, in most cases, apprentices will be able to achieve outcomes (grades) as specified by the assessment plan. There may be some cases for specific standards where the grade, using alternative assessment methods is limited to a pass, if this is the case your EPAO will communicate this and options of assessment delay can be discussed with relevant parties.
What if an apprentice has started EPA? Can they revert to the new assessment arrangements?
Yes, but this must be done in agreement with the apprentice and relevant parties. If an apprentice wishes to delay their assessment so they can be observed, it is expected that employers and training providers will support this decision. Delaying assessment is likely to result in the need for the apprentice to be temporarily suspended and it could delay completion by months.
Which apprentices are eligible for the alternative assessment arrangements?
The arrangements apply to those currently in EPA, about to enter gateway or are due to enter gateway in the very near future. Importantly, apprentices must have completed their training and met the minimum apprenticeship programme duration, including time spent on-the-job. Given the requirement for apprentices to demonstrate specific skills, if they have not been in the workplace for several months before their planned end-date, the gateway evidence will need to establish precisely how readiness has been gauged.
Can gateways be completed remotely?
Yes, please discuss this with your EPAO and ensure that digital recordings are shared and stored safely. Please remember the tripartite process of establishing assessment readiness: the EPAO will need assurance that all parties are happy for the assessment to proceed using the assessment substitutions.
How will assessment planning and scheduling take place?
In the majority of cases, the assessment planning and scheduling will be undertaken remotely using conferencing software. Apprentices and training providers should check with their EPAOs what software they are using (Zoom is commonplace). EPAOs will have protocols for undertaking remote assessments and will adhere to these arrangements. The EPAO will check the following:
- Apprentice readiness
- Apprentice willingness to proceed with the end-point assessment utilising substitute assessment methods. It is recommended that training providers and/or employers confirm with the apprentice they have sanctioned this route of assessment. The EPAO will accept confirmation from either the employer or training provider
- Assessment sequence
- Conditions required for remote assessment and confirmation that the apprentice has access to the appropriate software and suitable environment for end-point assessment
- Apprentice’s understanding of the assessment substitutes and how and why the assessment methods will be used to make an assessment decision
What’s the difference between the standard assessment and the interim assessment arrangements?
Where the assessment plan requires workplace observations which cannot reasonably be undertaken using digital technology or cannot take place due to work restrictions, the EQAP has agreed with IfATE and EPAOs, suitable alternative assessment arrangements. Invariably a composite of evidence is required and the Independent assessor will make the assessment decision and grade. Validation of submitted on-programme evidence to inform an outcome will be an integral aspect of the assessment.
If assessments can be undertaken in any order, can the substitution evidence be submitted at any time during the EPA window?
It should be stressed, the overriding aim is to deliver an effective and efficient end-point assessment experience for all parties, so an EPAO will not put up bureaucratic barriers. If the apprentice has already completed elements of the assessment, the substitution evidence must be submitted and assessed before the final validation assessment. This, in most cases, will be an oral question and answer assessment. Ideally, portfolio type assessment should be submitted early on in the assessment window. EPAOs will have a preferred sequence of assessment delivery and this will be made available or agreed at the assessment planning stage.
The assessment substitutions have been agreed, what happens next?
If the apprentice is already in EPA, the options for assessment will be discussed and the training provider will be informed of the additional evidence requirements or actions they will need to take to support the independent assessment. The EPAO cannot mandate the apprentice undergoes assessment utilising the approved adjustments. It is for the third parties (apprentice, training provider and employer) to approve the alternative end-point assessment route.
The EPAO will wish to establish that the apprentice is fully appraised of their options and understands how the interim assessment arrangements work. EPAOs have been advised by the EQAP of the acceptable forms of alternative evidence and assessment delivery. EPAOs will share this information with all relevant stakeholders, ensuring apprentices have the best possible opportunity to demonstrate their competence across all of the knowledge, skills and behaviours of the respective standard.
When will the substituted assessment arrangements be available?
Talk with your EPAO. In many cases, EPAOs will look to have the interim assessment arrangements in place by mid to late May. EPAOs need to design the assessment instruments and train assessors, as well as reviewing and adapting their internal quality assurance processes.
How can the additional evidence be submitted to the EPAO?
The training provider should agree with the EPAO what the preferred method for evidence submission is. It is important to note that the EPAO will need to retain records of the submitted evidence, so the evidence will need to be shared and cannot just be accessed via the provider’s e-portfolio system.
How will evidence submitted by the training provider or employer be validated?
In many cases, the apprentice will be subject to some form of oral question and answer testing, or assessor led competency-based interview. Questions will not be issued in advance and the Q&A assessment will form part of the graded outcome. Training Providers will provide the EPAO with additional portfolio type evidence. Evidence must meet the requirements of validity, authenticity, currency, sufficiency and reliability. Evidence such as apprentice’s self-assessments and/or reflections are not admissible evidence.
If the Training Provider is submitting evidence on behalf of the apprentice, what is considered current evidence?
It is expected that evidence supporting skills and behaviours (which are typically assessed via the observation) will be no older than six months and may be the result of mock assessments undertaken by the Training Provider, as well as third party testimony and suitable product evidence.
What happens if the apprentice decides they do not wish to use the alternative assessment route?
If the apprentice decides they do not want to be assessed using the substitute assessment methods, the EPAO will check with the employer and training provider that they are prepared to suspend the apprentice, until such time the observations can take place. If the employer and/or training provider wish the apprentice to proceed, they must secure the agreement of the apprentice and the EPAO must be informed that the apprentice will accept assessment by the adapted assessment model.
What happens if the evidence submitted by the training provider is assessed as insufficient or invalid by the EPAO?
The EPAO will advise parties of the reasons for non-conformance and offer an opportunity for the submission of additional evidence. If such evidence is not forthcoming, the assessment will be deferred and the recommendation will be for the apprentice to undertake the prescribed observations at a suitable time and location. The EPAO will not judge this as a fail, as in some cases the apprentice has no real control over the evidence submitted. Please note, PAL will charge for the assessments carried out, in line with the fees associated with the activities the substitutes are replacing.
Will there be multiple opportunities for the training provider to submit ‘portfolio evidence’ on behalf of the apprentice?
As the requirements for evidence submission will have been agreed, and for reasons of fairness, multiple re-submissions of portfolio type evidence will not be accepted. It is critical that training providers take a ‘right-first-time’ approach and ensure evidence is fit for purpose and meets the requirements for assessment.
Will Training Providers have to reference the evidence?
Training Providers can reference the evidence for their own purposes to ensure standard-specific coverage. However, the EPAO will be the determinant of evidence suitability and validity, and the assessment decision will be independent of any training provider referencing. The process of assessment substitution does not involve training providers undertaking a predictive assessment.
The portfolio evidence or substituted evidence is accepted but the apprentice fails the assessment validation, what happens?
If you commit to the EPA using the interim assessment methods and fail any aspect of the assessment (that is not portfolio/additional evidence related), this will count as a fail and the conditions for resits and retakes will apply. Please read the relevant assessment plan and request the EPAOs resit and retake policy, so you are familiar with the situation regarding grading, resits and retakes, as assessment plans do vary. Resits and retakes will be charged in this situation, as per the agreement the training provider and employer has with the EPAO. Remember it is not possible with any assessment plan to undertake a resit or retake to improve a grade if the first final outcome is a pass
Will grades above a pass still be achievable with the interim assessment methods?
In most cases, the interim assessment methods will allow for the full range of grades. Please check with the EPAO or contact the relevant EQAP to confirm this for the specific assessment plan.
Will assessment decisions be subject to EPAO quality assurance and EQAP quality assurance?
Can an assessment decision be appealed?
Yes, please be guided by the EPAO’s appeals and disputes policy and charges.