Is it time for capstone or endpoint independent assessment in VET?

With a number of countries including the UK moving towards using some sort of capstone or endpoint assessment to act as a final gateway for apprentices, to confirm their competence, prior to being awarded their qualification,  it seems like it may not be a bad time for the Australian VET sector to look at the concept as well.

What is an endpoint or capstone assessment then?  It is an independent assessment  of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that have been learnt throughout the apprenticeship. The purpose of which is to make sure the apprentice meets the standard set by employers and are fully competent in the occupation.  If we take the UK for example End-point assessment must be administered by an assessor from an approved, independent End-point Assessment Organisation, and not by the training provider.  It is the simple idea that at the conclusion of the apprenticeship and prior to the awarding of the qualification an independent body, not connected to the training provider or the employer, makes a final assessment of the skills and knowledge of the apprentice to ensure that they have successfully learnt the skills required for the qualification and are therefore competent to be awarded the qualification.

The first question most people as when this suggestion is bought up is Why?  Why is there the need to have a separate independent organisation certifying the competence of the student, isn’t that what the RTO (public or not) is supposed to do.  Of course the simple answer here is that under our VET system that is correct, it is the RTO who is responsible for certifying the competence of the student and awarding the qualification.  However I think given the recent issues with both public and private providers and the fact that ASQA has had to either rescind or have reassessed a substantial number of qualifications across a range of industries, it seems at least to me, that confidence in the fact that providers are actually doing enough to ensure competence may actually be a significant issue.  That those students who receive qualifications, regardless of what industry it relates to, are actually competent and have the requisite skills and knowledge they require in order to do the work which the qualification says they are able to do, is really the bedrock of our system isn’t it.  If more than 80% of people undertaking VET are doing it to improve their workforce participation, then their ability to convert that qualification into some kind of workforce outcome, along with the need for employers who employ these students on the basis of having a qualification, which indicates they possess a certain level of skills and knowledge are paramount.  In fact we have seen a number of employers now feeling that they need undertake their own testing of ‘qualified’ potential staff to ensure their competence prior to employment.  The idea of end point assessments is I think one that is certainly applicable to apprenticeships, however I also think there is certainly a useful application for them across a range of disciplines.  There would also be an interesting side benefit of a system of independent assessment and that is that it would provide substantive information to the VET regulator around the quality of graduates from different providers.  A high level of failure of students from a particular provider would be a risk indicator for the regulator to cast a closer eye over that provider.  We would I think also see that those providers who were less that scrupulous in their training and assessment practices would begin to exit the market as it would become more difficult for them to sustain their business models.

There are a range of conditions however which these kind of assessments require to meet, in order I think to be both successful and valuable.  The first is true independence, these gatekeeper organisations cannot be connected to training providers in any way.  They cannot be part of the TAFE system or linked to private providers at all, they must be truly independent organisations.  I would also suggest that along with this goes the fact that they cannot be government agencies, because, unfortunately as we know, there are often competing pressures placed upon government agencies which may make them less effective in carrying out their duties.   A couple of suggestions then spring to mind, the first of which would be to utilise the various peak bodies for different industries as a conduit to enabling this sort of assessment.  To me there may be issues here as peak bodies are often tightly linked to, and in a substantial number of instances paid for by the employers they represent.  This may produce the perception of bias or making things easier, particularly when there are shortages in the labour markets they represent.  Another possibility would be to utilise the already existing SSO’s and simply add to their duties, the development and administration of independent end point assessments.  This suggestion makes a fair bit of sense to me as there are already existing organisations in place who are tightly linked to the development of the training packages themselves and who are already funded to provide a range of VET services.  The third option would be to not utilise any existing structures and build the system from the ground up with organisations applying for and being granted a license shall we say to deliver these assessment services.  Of course stringent requirements would need to be developed to ensure that the veracity of these organisations were not subject to even the perception of bias or unethical behaviour.

I know that there will be those of you out there who will say that all this is doing is creating another layer of bureaucracy, and that what is in fact needed more high quality providers who can be trusted in their practices, and less lets get this qualification done as quickly as possible providers in the system, and to be fair you are probably right.  The problem is, that what we are doing is not working, and if we are  honest has not been working for a while now, and suggestions like removing the contestable market place or only providing government funding to public providers or more regulation and harsher penalties will not, to my mind at least, make any substantial difference.  The concept of independent final assessments may however actually revitalise the levels of confidence that everyone has in the system.  It is I think at least something we should be talking about.




About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

3 Responses to Is it time for capstone or endpoint independent assessment in VET?

  1. Paul Saunders says:

    Hi Paul
    as you will be aware what you are suggesting already occurs in a number of ‘licensed’ trades such as electrical and plumbing in Victoria. An important question of course is “who pays”? These systems are not cheap to set up or run. In some countries such as Germany I believe the employer pays through a levy. In the situation described above in Victoria I believe the learner / employee pays although with plumbing there may be some government funding.

    Before we rush into another layer of bureaucracy I would like to see how the next couple of years pan out. A great deal of work has been undertaken to ensure training organisations active in the VET market are reputable and there are now appropriate controls on entry to the market.

    Much of the poor behaviour we have seen in VET resulted from the very poor implementation of the ‘open market policy’. Hopefully as a result of such work as the McKenzie Review there is a much tighter market structure. As a result a considerable number of poorly performing organisations have been de-registered and we should begin to see standards and confidence beginning to return. Of course if learners and employers had followed the adage ” if it looks too good to be true it probably is” then poor quality providers would have had no business.

  2. Rob Beckett says:

    Interesting concept aligned to the old Journeyman system where a carpenter would only be shown competent after travelling around working on their trade for a period of time. They also had to produce miniatures of furniture or engineering projects to show their competence. The concern arise for me in the words used. Having a certificate means you have been assessed (well or not so well by an assessor) as competent, it does not however mean experienced competent. The real test of competence is keeping your job. That is really the only solid assessment of competence in a trade or qualification. There are good doctors, lawyers, builders, carpenters and bad ones both qualified, the same with VET qualifications. The good ones will grow and the bad ones while they may still servive their reputation will catch up with them. I guess my question is the same as with VET Assessors. Who assesses the assessors and does that mean even more expense to businesses, RTOs and more auditing. Some people are great at tests and exams but are still not competent in a workplace. Market forces will make or break a newly VET qualified worker not sure we really need to assess them again or if it would make much difference. Would you feel confident for a newly certificate III apprentice to build a 3 layered fire or sound ceiling system weighing in at 70kg plus per square metre above your head? Really the only thing that makes them qualified is experience after they have their Certificate III when they will make those rookie mistakes even though they have the basic guild knowledge required not too. Great discussion though well worth having. Thank for having it. Rob

  3. Silvia Mazur says:

    With reference to Germany, apprenticeships are far more common and hold a different status than in Australia. The skill level of an apprenticeship is also commercial supported e.g. if you are not a “recognised & certified tradesperson in a field” you are not allowed to run this service as a business. I believe this is the case for some Trades in Australia too. Although many years ago now, I underwent an apprenticeship in Germany. The practical part of the learner happened with the employer and the theory learning happened at the Industry Skills School of the Trade, generally in block allocations of schooling. Assessments were undertaken by the Industry Skills Schools only and covered a huge spectrum, not necessarily only aligned to the employer specific practices. It was not easy to achieve a successful outcome in these assessments – as I remember! Which I am sure if not for any apprentice today, either here or in Germany.

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