Call for radical cut in number of vocational awards

The national qualifications framework is set for a major shake-up if the
views of David Sherlock, chief inspector of the Adult Learning Inspectorate
(ALI), are heeded.

Sherlock is calling for a reduction in the number of vocational and
occupational qualifications from the current 2,000 to around 100 and a cut in
the number of awarding bodies. Such a rationalisation, he says, should make the
vocational education and training world more intelligible to learners and
employers, cut costs, and ensure that fewer people drop out because they have
chosen the wrong programme.

Sherlock denies that axing qualifications would reduce learner choice and
limit flexibility.

"Instead of having a basic structure which is absolutely rigid and
building flexibility within it, we’ve ended up with literally thousands of
qualifications and a plethora of awarding bodies," he said. "We’ve
started in the wrong place by inventing specialist qualifications rather than
having equality of opportunity, flexibility and transferability as the key
design principles. If you start on that basis you can easily decide you want a
limited number of building blocks with approved combinations, but with a
wide-ranging choice of units so you can tailor an award." Having more of a
recognised common core would enable people to transfer between programmes
without huge loss if they were to move, change jobs or find themselves in the
wrong slot, he said. And all vocational and occupational awards would offer
ladders to higher education.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) would be the key player
and it has been asked to bring forward to March 2004 its development of a
credit accumulation and transfer system in line with the Government’s Skills
Strategy. Awarding bodies would also need to co-operate.

"We can’t be held back from producing an award system by the pattern of
awarding bodies that we have at the moment," said Sherlock.

Steve Gale, operations manager at Avon Vale Training, a centre of vocational
excellence for engineering training, agrees that cutting the profusion of
qualifications could be helpful, but has concerns about limiting choice.

"I would be concerned that if we made qualifications too generic they
would have less value in industry," he said. "We could have just one
NVQ in engineering as long as there were pathways into maintenance, production
and other areas. But we must not lose breadth and scope for specialisation
within a core qualification: there has to be enough choice to cater for job
roles in our industry. Provided that the employer and candidate can see what’s
covered and as long as we’re not devaluing or watering down the technical
content, it wouldn’t matter too much."

Phil Round, manager education and training at Jaguar Cars, believes Sherlock
is right about the complexity of the existing situation. But he wants to go
further in developing progression routes and ensuring people get credit for
their achievements. "The Government quotes the percentage of people who
are qualified to level 2 and that’s not very high. If there were a push to
accredit all company training programmes I think you’d find a completely
different picture emerging. A lot of companies do training that gets no credit
at all and we’ve never put onto the agenda how much that actually is. If we
could get FE colleges, the large training organisations and awarding bodies
playing a role in that, wouldn’t it be great if on every course we had people
going towards some sort of qualification."

Companies are aware of the training required to build the competences needed
to become best in class, Round claimed. He would like to see a national
template that locked into qualifications to give everyone recognition and
correct figures on skills levels. "When I look back over the last couple
of years my big wish is that all the training we’ve done here in Jaguar could
have been accredited to give people recognition. What we’re trying to do is get
the complete pathway so that people can move from level 1 to level 5," he

By Elaine Essery

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