Emily Hughes became a part-time assessor of business administration and management apprentices in 2018. She also works three days a week as Partnership Development Manager and Apprenticeships Lead at Bishop Grosseteste University. She has held several FE college teaching posts, including Assistant Principal focusing on business growth at John Leggott College.
I took a production arts degree at Guildford School of Acting, and then gained a PGCE and MA while teaching A-levels, BTec and degree level courses across the performing and production arts. As the arts are a very vocational area, when the apprenticeship reforms came in I already had an existing skill set to support apprentices, I then moved to focus towards the management and business administration sectors.
I work as an independent EPA of business administration and management apprentices for two days a week, focusing on the following standards: Team Leader Supervisor, Operations Departmental Manager, and Business Administration. It dovetails well with my three-days-a-week university job where I work with apprentices - a combination of roles that keeps me up-to-date with my particular area of assessment and management of apprenticeship delivery.
The students I assess as an EPA come from all sorts of backgrounds but are mainly management and business administration-focused - one day I’ll be talking to the senior manager of a cinema chain and, next day, to a team leader in a chain of four shops. They tell me about their jobs and I learn about their industry. No two assessments are the same even though they are assessed against the same apprenticeship standard.
Part of the job is also keeping up to date with my occupational competences, eg reading through new guidelines, listening to webinars and attending various conferences, besides my business partnership role.
Different apprenticeship standards require different assessment plans; eg, the new painting and decorating standard skills test requires three days of observation in the workplace so an independent EPA has to be able to spend that time in the workplace. In my sector I can often be flexible for the standards I assess as they require being on-site for a half or full day or assessing remotely via phone or Skype from home - I can sometimes fit two assessments into one day if I don’t need to travel.
There are bigger challenges when assessing remotely because you not only need assessment and judgement skills but also an ability to steer the candidate, eg, not letting them talk too long and being able to get more information from them when they can't necessarily see your facial expressions or body language and thus not receive those set cues from you. You have to put them at ease on the phone, which is much harder than reassuring them in the same room.
First I’ll normally check for any new assessment allocations that have come in overnight and accept or decline as appropriate. I will be allocated students and - depending on the awarding organisation (I work for two) - I’ll arrange to hold a planning meeting with the student I’m assessing to timetable their assessments. I’ll then explain what they can expect during their assessment, which can be face to face at their workplace or done by phone or Skype, depending on their employer’s choice.
I also review my diary that day to see which assessments I have for which students, and usually a day or two before I will have prepared all the paperwork required to keep the assessment records up to date. I will also have prepared in advance which questions I will ask my students. Quite often I might get a set of five questions per module and yet only have to ask two - so deciding which questions to ask before seeing how positive or nervous the student is allows me to stay impartial.
The first assessment of the day normally starts at 9.30am either at the workplace or remotely from my home and lasts around three hours with a break inbetween. I’ll then write up my assessment, making sure I have inputted absolutely everything the student has told me; I’ll then upload it to an electronic system where everything is quality assured before the grades get issued to the students. Sometimes I am booked for another assessment in the afternoon.
During an assessment I will mainly look at the knowledge they have developed and/or the skills they have applied within the workplace; this may be through a professional discussion, a competency-based interview or presentation with questions (dependant on the apprenticeship standard requirements). I may also have an online portfolio to assess.
If you want to assess every evening and weekend you certainly can, which is why diary management is so essential, and you can do it full-time if you wish. To ensure you maintain your own occupational and sector competence when assessing others training for similar roles, you also have to spend time on the job and in continuing professional development each year. My two- and three- day roles are complementary; as an apprenticeships manager I’m constantly dealing with staff, setting strategies and budgeting, etc, so when I assess I know where students are coming from.
If your employer (awarding organisation) allows you to spend some of your time in paid work in your sector and bring back that valuable experience, working as a full-time assessor is fine. Otherwise, freelancing can work best as you can choose how and when to stay up-to-date. Remember, you are signing off someone’s occupational competence in a particular sector - and that’s a real responsibility. If you are told someone is skilled enough to perm your hair without scarring your head, you have to know the assessor has made the right judgement!
Before you start as an independent EPA you are well briefed on what is expected. Your assessment decisions are always quality assured. You will always have someone to phone for help and, if necessary, a second opinion.
Every standard has different requirements - I cannot advocate enough the Level 3 Award in Undertaking End-Point Assessment which helps you get to know the assessment methods, says what you can challenge students on and what you should consider when delivering an assessment.
I’m a bit unusual as I am a fully qualified teacher (alongside assessor and IQA (internal quality assessor) as well as being employed in the sector I assess, but you can become an assessor with any background as long as you have the relevant up-to-date occupational competence and CPD. I’ve learnt how to grade work through teaching A-levels, BTecs and degrees, alongside having taken on BTec Standards verification work over a 10 year period – you have to learn quickly and be confident in grading. The apprenticeship reforms expect you to differentiate students between merit, distinction and pass - it’s not just pass or fail.
When I can see a student should be able to achieve but has not done so. Perhaps their programme has not met their needs, they’ve been poorly trained, or they are on the wrong programme. Students are quite often not at fault but it can be challenging to try to get the best for such students but without giving them an advantage or disadvantage.
Seeing students realise how much they have learnt and then being able to credit them for that.
Confidence in your assessment skills to push and encourage apprentices and to step back and let them speak; to politely interrupt a student and shape the way their assessment is going without giving them an advantage or disadvantage; and to have good communication and interpersonal/time management skills. If you undertake two assessments in a day, avoid rushing the first one to fit in the second and tire yourself out.
What makes you suitable in an employer’s eyes to assess their apprentices’ occupational competence? How can you make students’ experience of assessment a positive one without giving anyone an advantage?
Hearing about all the different things apprentices do; I’ve learnt something from everyone I’ve assessed, whether it’s how the RSPCA operates or a local cottage shop manages its stock!