School business professional (SBP) apprenticeships are a cost-effective and rigorous way of upskilling your team, but choosing an endpoint assessment organisation (EPAO) can be tricky. School business leadership expert, Val Andrew, guides you through
At a time when many business managers swear they can hear the pips squeak every time they open their budget spreadsheets, the prospect of professional development that doesn’t pile on extra financial pressure will be enthusiastically welcomed. This is one of the reasons why apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular way of upskilling key school staff.
It’s certainly the case with school business professionals, with a Level 4 SBP apprenticeship now available from a wide range of training providers. This qualification works financially for many schools because it allows them to offset their costs against any apprenticeship levy they, or the local authority, have to pay.
The programme also delivers in terms of quality professional development. These apprenticeship programmes include an extensive assessment process that, for SBP L4, requires the apprentice to attend an ‘assessment centre’ for a range of assessment activities including presentations, a simulated task and focused questioning about how they’ve demonstrated the assessment criteria.
These so-called ‘endpoint assessments’ are essential to give employers such as schools and multi-academy trusts confidence that apprentices completing an apprenticeship standard can actually perform in the occupation they have been trained in, and can demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the occupational standard.
This process can be seen, perhaps, as an additional pressure on the apprentice but it does prepare them well for the role. Some of the exercises they are expected to complete during the assessment process accurately simulate the tough scenarios they will regularly face during their careers, such as presenting to governors or trustees. The rigour is there, and it is cost-effective, but it might appear to be a more complicated route because the employer is expected to choose, not only the training provider, but also the EPAO. The EPAO must be independent of the training provider so that schools can be assured that there is no conflict of interest – or, in the words of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, ‘no collusion’.
Making a start
So where do you start in the hunt for an EPAO? Independence of your EPAO can be established quite easily through consulting with your training provider. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), which accredits EPAOs for SBP apprenticeships, will be a key source of assurance of their quality – only approved EPAOs can deliver this service. Once you’ve narrowed down the field this way, look at the organisation’s credentials, the fees and the type of service that it offers.
Previous experience in school business professional development and assessment are two things to consider, along with the level of care and support on offer to apprentices and employers to help them fully understand the assessment requirements.
Get in touch and ask questions. Who will be carrying out the endpoint assessments? What are their credentials? Another key ‘look for’ is the choice and location of face-to-face assessment centre days – will there be one within easy reach? You should always look for the specific assessment plan on the IfATE website to check your obligations as an employer and to see how the assessment is planned.
Once you are clear on your choice of EPAO, what happens next? This will vary for different standards and different EPAOs but the process for Best Practice Network’s SBP L4, for example, can be broken down into these simple steps:
- Contact your training provider and ask them to contract with the EPAO on your behalf.
- The EPAO forms a contract with the training provider through a service level agreement. Costs and details of programme start, and expected end dates for each apprentice, are included in the contract schedule.
- The EPAO registers apprentice details and assessment locations are confirmed.
- A workplace project proposal is submitted to the EPAO for agreement, as per the assessment plan.
- The EPAO then identifies an endpoint assessment date, subject to the apprentice passing a gateway assessment with the training provider/employer.
- Once ‘EPA-ready’ the apprentice completes their workplace project report and portfolio of learning within a fortnight. The EPAO confirms the endpoint assessment date with the apprentice.
- Endpoint assessment takes place.
- Results of the endpoint assessment are sent to the apprentice and the employer within six weeks of the assessment date.
Apprenticeships are a rewarding – and cost-effective – way for schools to develop the skills of school business professionals. At first glance it might seem a more complex professional development route but, with guidance and support from the right training provider, and high-quality assessment through the EPAO, the benefits will, I think, outweigh any concerns you might have.