AAT recognised for stakeholder engagement in new PQ Award win

29 April 2024

AAT staff celebrating their win at the PQ Magazine Awards

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) has been recognised for its authentic, transparent approach to addressing a spate of technical issues which plagued its new qualifications platform last year.

PQ Magazine Editor Graham Hambly announced AAT as the recipient of a coveted ‘Editor’s Special Award’ at the publication’s 21st annual awards event held Monday in London.

AAT is one of the UK’s largest providers of accountancy and finance skills. Its open access qualifications are primarily delivered through a network of training providers, including further education colleges, private providers and those specialising in distance learning. AAT training providers support around 70,000 students every year in their teaching and learning.

Industry veteran Hambly praised AAT’s leadership for the ‘refreshing’, ‘genuine’ way they responded to unexpected technical issues which affected students attempting to use its new Qualifications 2022 assessments platform.

AAT’s response included taking accountability for the platform problems, listening to a wide range of stakeholders, and reversing assessment fees to those affected. The Editor specifically commended AAT’s establishment of three powerful advisory forums in Summer 2023 at the height of the technical problems, in a conscious effort engage its training provider, student, and employer communities on fixing immediate problems – and how AAT could do better in the future.

Sarah Beale, CEO of AAT

Testing time becomes opportunity to strengthen relationships – Beale

AAT Chief Executive Sarah Beale, who studied AAT herself before going on to other studies and sectors in her career, said it was no great secret that last year was a ‘testing time’ for AAT when it came to the roll out of its new platform.

“What will be a surprise to many, is the positive story that comes out of those challenges,” she said.

Beale took charge of the organisation as CEO just as its new platform was to launch. She was impressed by the support, encouragement and suggestions that flowed through from AAT’s communities.

“The feedback and ideas of our stakeholders were critical to my team addressing the technical challenges at pace,” she said. “There is clearly a strong sense of community around AAT and a shared belief in what we stand for. Our providers, students, employers – they all want us to succeed. And we want them to succeed as well.”

Beale said out of crisis rose opportunity. “This experience became a chance for AAT and our training provider community to be reminded of our shared values, and shared concern for our students,” she said.

Success relied on having an open mind and being willing to admit when an organisation initially got things wrong. Pride and self-preservation were blockers to partnerships and making shared progress, the CEO said.

“Because we faced our sizeable challenges with honesty, humility and accountability, we became much closer to our student and training provider communities.”

“Ultimately, our stakeholders placed their trust in us to put things right. Because of them, we were able to achieve that,” explained Beale. “But we’re not going to stop there: we remain committed to listening to our training provider, employer and student partners. Harnessing their insights is how AAT will deliver the real-world skills that businesses need. That’s how we’ll keep improving the student experience and employability for years to come."

AAT staff at the PPQ Magazine Awards

Employer voice ‘front and centre’ for AAT

AAT’s Executive Director of Customers, Partnerships and Innovation, Claire Bennison, congratulated another PQ Magazine’s award winner announced Monday.

Buzacott LLP was named Best Graduate/ Apprenticeship Training Programme of the Year. The ‘Top-25’ accountancy has hosted dozens of AAT apprentices over the past six years. It picked up the win amidst a field of impressive nominees.

 “AAT takes immense pride in the particularly high regard employers have for our qualifications and courses,” said Bennison. AAT-qualified accountants and bookkeepers are widely seen as having the practical knowledge and skills needed to get the job done in real-world environments.

AAT is known for its industry-leading apprenticeship programme and CPD courses. It partners with more than 6,000 employers to develop their teams’ finance skills.

AAT celebrating a win at the PQ Magazine Awards

Diverse voices needed in DfE qualifications overhaul

AAT’s chief executive said stakeholder views were more important than ever against a backdrop of substantial change headed for UK qualifications. Among other engagement methods, the organisation would continue supporting its stakeholder advisory forums first convened in October last year. The groups now meet every quarter, with the next gathering scheduled for mid-May. Qualifications reform will be the focus of discussions, including the government’s forthcoming Advanced British Standard (ABS).

In announcing the ABS, the Prime Minister said it would “put technical and academic education on an equal footing”. AAT’s Beale responded that, “Whilst we welcome all efforts to raise the status of vocational education, we encourage government to keep listening to employers and the education sector to ensure they get these reforms right.”

“We know first-hand that any innovation needs dialogue and diversity of input to be successful. Now more than ever, constant innovation is needed to keep pace with challenges that are emerging like AI and responding to the climate crisis,” said Beale.

AAT staff at the PPQ Magazine Awards