United front

John McNamara, chairman of the newly launched Federation of Awarding Bodies,
sets out his reasons for shaking up the NVQ system and championing vocational
education

The first quarter of 2001 has seen NVQ registrations fall by around 10 per
cent.

While an element of this must be attributed to nervousness about the new
funding arrangements under the Learning and Skills Councils, it has also
occurred to many of us in the business of awarding NVQs that unwieldy
regulation is having a damaging effect on our ability to deliver.

This was the premise on which we founded the Federation of Awarding Bodies,
an organisation launched in May to encourage improvements in the system.

A year ago, City & Guilds invited NVQ awarding bodies sharing common
interests to function as a united front to champion vocational training issues.
The first meeting went well, with attendees agreeing that a collaborative
approach to raising common issues related to NVQs could not fail to make an
impact.

City & Guilds, with OCR, Edexcel, LCCI and HAB (Hospitality Awarding
Body), established the secretariat to bring the group to fruition.

One of our first concerns was that with a number of other groups
representing awarding bodies, we should not be covering already-trodden ground.

I am confident that FAB is distinct in that it represents generic awarding
bodies of any size, as well as a number of industry-specific bodies.

We will tackle issues concerning all groups, establishing ourselves as the
only logical point of contact for those seeking the views and expertise of all
awarding bodies.

By taking an active, collaborative approach, we hope to work on many
important areas, but there are three fundamental issues to be addressed:

– The problematic system of accrediting NVQs

– Funding as a primary concern

– Effectively contributing to the NTO Review and the National Occupational
Standards Review

The accreditation of NVQs has at times become frustrating to say the least.
Regulation can be slow, bureaucratic and inconsistent across the sectors. We
will work with regulators to minimise the impact that highly necessary quality
procedures have on getting new or revised qualifications on to the market.

Meeting demands

If NVQs are to continue to prove their worth to individuals and business, we
must demonstrate that the system is flexible and able to meet the demands of
today.

We will also encourage reviews of policy and service.

Funding will always be of primary concern in the qualifications sector.

But we need to focus on ensuring that the vocational sector continues to get
its fair share, and this must then be distributed across all sectors.

Furthermore, there is work to be done in ensuring that adults and young
people get access to funded qualifications, in order to upskill the population.
We need well-funded, high-quality and relevant qualifications for all.

With regard to the NTO Review and the National Occupational Standards
Review, we will be using the federation to contribute effectively to these
important projects.

The importance of assessing occupational competence in the workplace cannot
be underestimated as a vital component in driving forward industry and
overcoming our growing skills deficit.

Positive shift

But our aim is not simply to complain to the regulators. We intend to use
the federation to support a positive shift in the vocational education market –
a single voice focused on work-based education.

Our overriding aim must be to encourage a positive, two-way relationship
between awarding bodies and other key organisations, such as the Qualifications
Curriculum Authority, NTO National Council and the Adult Learning Inspectorate
– we all have the common aim of ensuring vocational qualifications and training
works.

But we all recognise that individual representation and communication
remains important.

The Federation of Awarding Bodies is all about finding common themes and
contributing to the debate. It won’t be just another talking shop. We are all
here to work for a more consistent, speedier and effective vocational
qualifications system.

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