ICB's Payroll Policy Advisor, Ian Holloway of i-Realise, provides a short series of the Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan)

Part 1: demystifying end-point assessment

Part 2: multiple-choice questions

Part 3: the role simulation 1.0

Part 4: the role simulation 1.1

Part 1: demystifying end-point assessment

During apprenticeship studies, the term ‘end-point assessment’ was mentioned more than once.  The ICB wants to ensure that all apprentice students are prepared and equipped with the necessary information to explain and demystify this process.

All professional qualifications have some form of assessment of competence and apprenticeships are no different.  This is referred to as end-point assessment with apprenticeships and is conducted strictly as per the End-Point Assessment Plan. 

The Level 3 Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship is, essentially, broken down into three distinct sections, all of which need to be explained as you will hear these referred to.  However, right at the start, it is worth outlining the meaning of two initialisms, again, something apprentices may be seen referred to:

The ATP

This refers to the Apprenticeship Training Provider.  This is the organisation that the employer has chosen to perform the apprenticeship training.  It is not the same as a training provider and ATPs have to meet standards and criteria set by the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the IfATE).

The ATP will be registered as approved on the ‘Register of apprenticeship training providers’ published by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

The EPAO

This refers to the End-Point Assessment Organisation.  This is the organisation that your ATP has chosen to be the facilitator of the end-point assessment.  It is independent of the ATP and must appear on the ‘Register of end-point assessment organisations’, similarly published by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

The ICB is listed as an independent EPAO.

The Apprenticeship Journey, Section-by-Section

The Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan) outlines these stages which we explain as follows:

On-Programme

This is the learning and development stage where the ATP will impart the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are outlined in the EPA Plan.  Throughout On-Programme, the employer and ATP will constantly assess progress, providing support, advice, guidance and mentoring where necessary.

This stage must be robust, as this is where the apprentice will gain the learning and development necessary for progression.

Gateway

The Gateway stage is the point that is the single determinant of whether On-Programme learning and development has been successful and is sufficient to allow progress to End-Point.  It is also the point where Level 2 English and Maths will need to have been achieved and evidenced. 

Gateway is the point at which the apprentice, the employer and ATP will judge whether they should proceed to the independent End-Point stage.  Passing through Gateway is, usually, a three-way discussion, however, it is the employer alone that makes the final decision.

Once through Gateway, this is usually where the first contact with the ICB as EPAO is made.

End-Point

This is where the apprentice progress through the three End-Point components outlined in the EPA Plan.  As an independent EPAO, the ICB will perform this strictly in line with the Plan which involves three different components:

  1. Multiple-Choice questions
  2. The Role Simulation
  3. The Professional Discussion

These must be performed in the above order and progression to the next component is depending on achieving at least a pass grade.  Although it is possible to do multiple retakes, the entire End-Point process must be completed within 3 months of passing Gateway.

Part 2: multiple-choice questions

As we have said, all professional qualifications require assessment of competence.  With the Level 3 Payroll Administrator apprenticeship, this comes in the form of end-point assessment (EPA) and the three different components, all weighted equally when it comes to determining the final fail, pass or distinction success.  The Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan) determines the following as the assessment components which must be taken and passed in the following order:

  1. Multiple-Choice questions
  2. The Role Simulation
  3. The Professional Discussion

All three components are individual in their own right, assessing different knowledge, skills and behaviours in completely different ways.  The apprenticeship Trailblazer did this deliberately, reflecting the different ways that payroll and bookkeeping professionals operate in their day-to-day working life.

In the first instance, it is important to say that EPA is a necessary part of the apprenticeship that must be faced as part of the professional learning journey.  However, it should not be feared.  In some way or another, we are tested and assessed every day of our lives.  EPA is certainly no different.  In fact, as this is the end of the learning journey, it is something that apprentices should embrace and welcome.

The Structure

There are two knowledge outcomes assessed in the Multiple-Choice questions:

  1. Payroll (Core), and
  2. Payroll (Pensions)

It is important to recognise that this assessment method assesses the things that we may come across in our day-to-day careers at some point.  That does not mean that we do come across them now.  So, although we may not come across them now, recognise that we might come across them in the future.  It is a demonstration of how wide the payroll profession is.

Unlike the other assessment methods, this one is a ‘closed book’.  This means that the apprentice has to rely on factual knowledge recall without the support of notes, workbooks, access to the Internet etc.  Again, consider that this is a large part of how we operate in reality which, again, emphasises how much we actually do in the profession.

The Multiple-Choice assessment lasts 2 hours, during which time there are no breaks allowed.  There are 50 questions, chosen at random by the EPAO.  Each question will have 4 possible answers, only one of which is totally correct.  The questions are in the following format:

30 factual questions

This means that the question requires knowledge recall only. 

For example, ‘what is the pensions Annual Allowance for the current tax year?’.  There will be 4 answers, only 1 of which is correct meaning that 3 will have an incorrect value.

10 scenario-based questions

This means that the question will be phrased around a scenario that might be encountered at the workplace.

For example ‘an employee receives a tax code that commences with the letter S and asks what this means.  What is your reply?’.  Again, there will be possible 4 answers (and the only correct answer to this question to give the employee is that HMRC has identified them as a Scottish Taxpayer.  Any other answer must be incorrect).

10 contextualised questions

A question in context (a contextualised question) poses an idea or subject and asks for a true and complete interpretation.  There is a fine line between a question that is in context and a question that is based on a scenario.

An example could be a question that says ‘you are required to outline the implications on payroll software for employees who are company directors with regards to their National Insurance calculation?’.  With 4 possible answers, the only correct one will be a statement that contains the answer that the implication for software is that company directors have a cumulative basis of calculation rather than one that is performed each pay period.

Multiple-Choice Questions Top Tips

  1. This is the start of the End-Point process.  Think of it as the first step towards gaining the professional and vocational qualification
  2. This component tests the recall of knowledge gained during on-programme learning.  It is not about a fictitious scenario and is not about the apprentice’s own organisation.  Those will come in other EPA components 
  3. It will not test manual calculations.  That is the purpose of the Role Simulation
  4. Take any on-programme assessment provided by the Apprenticeship Training Provider (ATP)
  5. Take the mock examinations provided by the End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO)
  6. Focus on the EPA Plan wording for the 2 elements being assessed by this method (Payroll Core Pensions for Payroll) – ‘list’, ‘describe’, ‘identify’, ‘recognise’, ‘define’, ‘understand’.  The Multiple-Choice component will not assess anything other than the recall of factual knowledge
  7. It will not test anything that is not specifically detailed in the EPA Plan
  8. Look at the areas that are not part of the day-to-day working life/role.  Often, this is the knowledge of pensions, particularly:
  • The State Pension
  • The types of pension scheme
  • Pensions tax relief mechanisms and
  • Pension flexibility

       9. Recognise that there will be a mix of factual questions, questions that are based on a given scenario and questions that are based around a particular context but, overall.

       10. READ THE QUESTION THOROUGHLY. There may be similar answers, however, there will only be one completely correct answer.

Part 3: the role simulation 1.0

The Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan) determines the following as the assessment components which must be taken and passed in the following order:

  1. Multiple-Choice questions
  2. The Role Simulation
  3. The Professional Discussion

A lot of apprentices tell me that the second component (the Role Simulation) is the most difficult.  This was never the intention of the Trailblazer who established this assessment method and it is certainly not reflected in the marking weighting, where all three components are weighted equally.

Perhaps, though, the fact that there is a significant difference from the Multiple-Choice assessment method could mean that there is a more difficult perception.  As I have said before, each component is individual in its own right together with the required competence to obtain a pass.  However, this is only reflective of the day-to-day way that payroll administrators and bookkeepers have to approach their professional lives. 

Each component is robust and appropriate for the apprenticeship plus, importantly, deliverable by the End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO).  The Role Simulation should not be feared and not regarded as more difficult than the other components.  Yet, it is different and the purpose of this article is to explain the Simulation and give some ‘top tips’ for apprentices.

The Structure

The Role Simulation can only be taken after a pass is achieved in the Multiple-Choice questions.  The apprentice will be presented with details of a fictitious company with a variety of tasks for its employees.  These will be as per the learning outcomes that are being assessed by this method.

Full details of the company will be given in the scenario and the Simulation must be completed in 3 hours (+ / - 10% tolerance) within 1 working day.  The EPAO must allow the apprentice to have up to 3 breaks lasting no more than 1 hour.  So, if this option is chosen, the Simulation can last for over 5 hours.

Importantly, the Simulation is an ‘open book’, replicating a workplace situation as much as is possible.  What this means is that the apprentice can take in any tools, notes and fact cards that they feel may be useful.  Plus, the EPAO must allow access to the Internet, though not social networking sites.  This is how we operate at the workplace and the structure of the Simulation acknowledges that.

The Learning Outcomes Assessed

The Simulation will directly assess 3 learning outcomes:

  1. Payroll (Technical).
  2. Analysis
  3. Produce Quality and Accurate Information

However, the following outcomes will also be assessed to obtain a distinction grading:

  1. Planning and Prioritisation
  2. Communication and Engagement
  3. Professional Scepticism.

So, the three direct learning outcomes will be assessed but a distinction grading is only achieved once the other 3 are taken into account.  So, for example, a question may assess the ability to manually calculate Student Loans (Payroll Technical), however, a distinction can only be achieved if the apprentice takes into account the fact that this calculation has to be communicated (Communication and Engagement).

Passmark

Some of the Payroll Technical learning outcomes contains multiple subsets.  For example, the learning outcome concerning Statutory Deductions (Income Tax, National Insurance etc) contains 6 separate items. EPAOs have been instructed that it is not necessary to test all of the individual bullet points and 80% coverage is acceptable. Further, they have been advised that the Role Simulation will not contain manual calculations on National Insurance categories B, J, Z and X.

However, despite this, competence is only achieved if there is 100% accuracy.  This is unlike the Multiple-Choice assessment component where the pass mark is 35 / 50.  Also, in contrast, is the fact that an apprentice can obtain a distinction grade (or pass or fail).  The EPAO will assess the grading as follows:

  • A failure means an inability to demonstrate competence of the three components that are directly assessed by this method (Payroll (Technical), Analysis and Produce Quality and Accurate Information)
  • A pass means there is an ability to demonstrate competence of the three components that are directly assessed by this method (Payroll (Technical), Analysis and Produce Quality and Accurate Information)
  • A distinction means that the pass criteria has been achieved PLUS demonstration of the other learning outcomes (Planning and Prioritisation, Communication and Engagement and Professional Scepticism)

Role Simulation Top Tips

  1. You are on step 2 of 3 assessment components – the end is in sight towards gaining the professional and vocational qualification!
  2. READ THE FICTITIOUS COMPANY SCENARIO THOROUGHLY.  It will not be based on a company you are familiar with and is certainly not based on your own company.  Think of it as being a new employee at a totally new company and become the payroll administrator at this fake company
  3. It will not test anything that is not specifically detailed in the EPA Plan
  4. Consider the following, as these are issues that professionals frequently trip upon.  In our working lives, tripping up means we get the payroll wrong.  In an assessment, it could lead to failure:
  • Payroll is intrinsically linked to employment law, for example, employment law says we cannot make an unlawful deduction
  • Payroll is affected by devolution and sharing (Scottish Income Tax for example)
  • Remember this is ‘open book’.  Consider access to the Internet, tools and resources and payroll fact cards

        5. Show workings in manual calculations (and consider checking to HMRC’s online calculators)
        6. Remember that Income Tax can be calculated cumulatively and non-cumulatively (week 1 / month 1)
        7. Remember that we never calculate Income Tax on pennies.  Always round the net taxable pay down to whole pounds before the calculation
        8. Remember the rounding rules in National Insurance manual calculations (round up depending on the value of the third decimal point)
        9. Remember that the Student Loan deduction made from the employee is always in whole pounds
       10. Take any on-programme assessment provided by the Apprenticeship Training Provider (ATP) and the mock examinations provided by the End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO)

Part 4: the role simulation 1.1

This is the final part of a short series on the Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan) which determines the following as the assessment components which must be taken and passed in the following order:

1.      Multiple-Choice questions

2.      The Role Simulation

3.      The Professional Discussion

All three components are weighted equally and no part should be easier or harder than the others.  This was a deliberate intention of the Trailblazer, recognising that payroll administrators and bookkeepers have to employ a range of knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) equally in the many functions they undertake.  Therefore, in reality, no KSBs are more important than others.

The Professional Discussion with an independent assessor is different from the other two components.  Before moving onto look at this component, as a reminder:

1.      The Multiple-Choice questions are for the recall of knowledge/facts

2.      The Role Simulation is about employing KSBs in a fictitious scenario.  This may not be a company with which the         apprentice is familiar

Two significant considerations

The workplace

This is the only End-Point component that is directly related to what the apprentice does at the workplace and what happens there.  So:

  • It is NOT about the recall of facts from memory.  That has already been assessed in the Multiple-Choice questions
  • It is NOT about what happens in a fictitious company.  That has been assessed in the Role Simulation

The certificate of distinction

It is possible to fail End-Point or pass it.  However, there is also an opportunity to pass with distinction, and this will be reflected in the certificate of apprenticeship issued by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.  However, as per the Level 3 EPA Plan, a distinction can only be obtained if a distinction grade is awarded in both the Role Simulation and Professional Discussion.

The Structure

The Professional Discussion can only be taken after a pass or distinction is achieved in the Role Simulation.  The apprentice will be asked 14 questions lasting a maximum of 60 minutes (with a 10%-time tolerance).  Although limited to 14 questions, the independent assessor may ask follow-up questions, for example, to allow the apprentice to fully answer the question.

The EPA Plan does not specify whether this is an open or closed book – i.e., whether notes can be taken in or not.  Therefore, because no specific exclusion is made, the apprentice and Apprenticeship Training Provider (ATP) can assume that notes can be taken in.

The Learning Outcomes Assessed

1.      Business and Customer Awareness (knowledge learning outcome)

2.      Regulation and Compliance (knowledge)

3.      Systems and Processes (knowledge)

4.      Planning and Prioritisation (skill)

5.      Uses Systems and Processes (skill)

6.      Team Working and Collaboration (skill)

7.      Communication and Engagement (skill)

8.      Ethics and Integrity (behaviour)

9.      Adaptability (behaviour)

10.   Professional Scepticism (behaviour)

11.   Proactivity and Enthusiasm (behaviour) and

12.   Professional Development (behaviour)

Demonstration of achieving the above in the workplace will be required for a pass.  However, it is worthwhile noting that demonstration of the following will achieve a distinction grading:

1.      Describing the impact of the main UK taxation, Social Security, employment and pensions legislation and the consequences of non-compliance (from Regulation and Compliance) 

2.      The re-evaluation of tasks in light of changing priorities (Planning and Prioritisation)

3.      An explanation of how the workplace systems ensure RTI submissions are submitted on time (Uses Systems and Processes)

4.      Examples of communication to build and maintain relationships external to the organisation (Communication and Engagement)

5.      An understanding of the ethical requirements of the profession (Ethics and Integrity)

6.      Examples of reacting and adapting to changes and challenges (Adaptability)

7.      Examples and instances of self-motivation (Proactivity and Enthusiasm), and

8.      A commitment to continuous professional learning and development (Professional Development)

Passmark

The Professional Discussion is either a failure, pass or distinction grading.

The structure of the EPA Plan means that 14 questions are going to have to be answered thoroughly and quickly!  However, apprentices must remember that it is achievable.

Professional Discussion Top Tips

1.      This is the last End-Point component. At the end of the assessment, the tunnel is in sight as if the achievement of an industry-recognised professional and vocational qualification

2.      This is a discussion between the apprentice and an independent assessor.  It is a two-way conversation – with one asking the questions and one responding

3.      This is not about knowledge recall and it is not about a fictional company.  Relate the answers to the workplace with responses such as ‘I did this’ and ‘at my company’ and ‘I achieve that by..’

4.      Like all of the End-Point components, the Professional Discussion will not test anything that is not specifically detailed in the EPA Plan

5.      Read the pass and distinction criteria in the EPA Plan.  Know what you have to demonstrate and be prepared to do that

6.      Overall, be honest and true.  The independent assessor will be able to judge answers that are scripted and not reflective of what actually happens at the workplace.  So, by all means, take notes into the assessment, but do not read from them

In this short series, ICB has analysed end-point assessment and each of the three components.  Each component is different in structure, so we have devoted 4 separate articles and webinars to the subject.

End-point assessment is the apprentice’s opportunity to demonstrate competence.  Therefore, that is the mindset to have and approach it as a challenge, not something to be feared. 

Part 4

This is the final part of a short series on the Level 3 Payroll Administrator End-Point Assessment Plan (EPA Plan) which determines the following as the assessment components which must be taken and passed in the following order:

1.      Multiple-Choice questions

2.      The Role Simulation

3.      The Professional Discussion

All three components are weighted equally and no part should be easier or harder than the others.  This was a deliberate intention of the Trailblazer, recognising that payroll administrators and bookkeepers have to employ a range of knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) equally in the many functions they undertake.  Therefore, in reality, no KSBs are more important than others.

The Professional Discussion with an independent assessor is different from the other two components.  Before moving onto look at this component, as a reminder:

1.      The Multiple-Choice questions are for the recall of knowledge/facts

2.      The Role Simulation is about employing KSBs in a fictitious scenario.  This may not be a company with which the apprentice is familiar

Two significant considerations

The workplace

This is the only End-Point component that is directly related to what the apprentice does at the workplace and what happens there.  So:

  • It is NOT about the recall of facts from memory.  That has already been assessed in the Multiple-Choice questions
  • It is NOT about what happens in a fictitious company.  That has been assessed in the Role Simulation

The certificate of distinction

It is possible to fail End-Point or pass it.  However, there is also an opportunity to pass with distinction, and this will be reflected in the certificate of apprenticeship issued by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.  However, as per the Level 3 EPA Plan, a distinction can only be obtained if a distinction grade is awarded in both the Role Simulation and Professional Discussion.

The Structure

The Professional Discussion can only be taken after a pass or distinction is achieved in the Role Simulation.  The apprentice will be asked 14 questions lasting a maximum of 60 minutes (with a 10%-time tolerance).  Although limited to 14 questions, the independent assessor may ask follow-up questions, for example, to allow the apprentice to fully answer the question.

The EPA Plan does not specify whether this is an open or closed book – i.e., whether notes can be taken in or not.  Therefore, because no specific exclusion is made, the apprentice and Apprenticeship Training Provider (ATP) can assume that notes can be taken in.

The Learning Outcomes Assessed

1.      Business and Customer Awareness (knowledge learning outcome)

2.      Regulation and Compliance (knowledge)

3.      Systems and Processes (knowledge)

4.      Planning and Prioritisation (skill)

5.      Uses Systems and Processes (skill)

6.      Team Working and Collaboration (skill)

7.      Communication and Engagement (skill)

8.      Ethics and Integrity (behaviour)

9.      Adaptability (behaviour)

10.    Professional Scepticism (behaviour)

11.    Proactivity and Enthusiasm (behaviour) and

12.    Professional Development (behaviour)

Demonstration of achieving the above in the workplace will be required for a pass.  However, it is worthwhile noting that demonstration of the following will achieve a distinction grading:

1.      Describing the impact of the main UK taxation, Social Security, employment and pensions legislation and the consequences of non-compliance (from Regulation and Compliance) 

2.      The re-evaluation of tasks in light of changing priorities (Planning and Prioritisation)

3.      An explanation of how the workplace systems ensure RTI submissions are submitted on time (Uses Systems and Processes)

4.      Examples of communication to build and maintain relationships external to the organisation (Communication and Engagement)

5.      An understanding of the ethical requirements of the profession (Ethics and Integrity)

6.      Examples of reacting and adapting to changes and challenges (Adaptability)

7.      Examples and instances of self-motivation (Proactivity and Enthusiasm), and

8.      A commitment to continuous professional learning and development (Professional Development)

Passmark

The Professional Discussion is either a failure, pass or distinction grading.

The structure of the EPA Plan means that 14 questions are going to have to be answered thoroughly and quickly!  However, apprentices must remember that it is achievable.

Professional Discussion Top Tips

1.      This is the last End-Point component.  The end of the assessment tunnel is in sight as if the achievement of an industry-recognised professional and vocational qualification

2.      This is a discussion between the apprentice and an independent assessor.  It is a two-way conversation – with one asking the questions and one responding

3.      This is not about knowledge recall and it is not about a fictional company.  Relate the answers to the workplace with responses such as ‘I did this’ and ‘at my company’ and ‘I achieve that by..’

4.      Like all of the End-Point components, the Professional Discussion will not test anything that is not specifically detailed in the EPA Plan

5.      Read the pass and distinction criteria in the EPA Plan.  Know what you have to demonstrate and be prepared to do that

6.      Overall, be honest and true.  The independent assessor will be able to judge answers that are scripted and not reflective of what actually happens at the workplace.  So, by all means, take notes into the assessment, but do not read from them 

In this short series, the ICB has analysed end-point assessment and each of the three components.  Each component is different in structure, so we have devoted 4 separate articles and webinars to the subject.

End-point assessment is the apprentice’s opportunity to demonstrate competence. Therefore, that is the mindset to have and approach it as a challenge, not something to be feared.

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