External accreditation: Outside recognition

Enhancing the value of internal training through external recognition by recognised bodies seems a positive development. But what does it involve?

Employers can now award nationally accredited qualifications to employees. Under a new scheme by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), they can formally recognise workplace learning with qualifications equal to GCSEs, A-level and diplomas.

Three well-known organisations are already on board: McDonald’s, Network Rail, and airline Flybe. They are the first companies to sign up to the scheme and have all recently achieved awarding body status.


It is all part of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), which underpins a drive by the QCA to tie in workplace skills and learning in a way that is beneficial to employers and employees. “Billions are spent each year by industry on high-quality training,” says QCA spokesman Jon Waldren. “To date, that training has gone largely unrecognised and unaccredited. The QCF is a new way of recognising skill and achievements by awarding credit for qualifications and units.”

The QCF grants participating employers awarding body status. As part of the framework, employers can also develop units to form part of a national qualification work with awarding bodies to award bespoke qualifications and work with a third party, such as a recognised sector provider.

So what do Flybe, McDonald’s and Network Rail have to gain from this?

“We wanted to have a process to recognise all the training that we do and to put it into a qualification-based framework,” says Simon Witts, director of safety, quality and training at Flybe.”

To meet the QCA criteria, Flybe had to prove the learning it provides is transferable. “The QCA and Sector Skills Council (SSC) make sure it’s transferable,” says Witts. “They review each qualification that we put forward, ask key questions about transferability and what it does for other potential employers.”

It didn’t take long for Flybe to pass the test. Its first meeting with the QCA was in late October, and in December it got the go ahead.

The fact that companies can award their own qualifications has caused some negative press. The main criticism is that it cheapens qualifications – the BBC reported recently that some universities have already said they will not accept these workplace qualifications. They are likely to be concerned about issues of transferability, quality assurance and impartiality. Employers involved in the scheme acknowledge these concerns, but say that the QCA and the involvement of the SSC ensure the qualifications are bona fide.

Simon Roodhouse, professor of creative industries at the University of the Arts, London, and technical director at HE@Work, a consultancy that helps employers develop their own high-level qualifications, says while he is in favour of such qualifications, it is best if they are validated by universities. “If you are going for a high-level qualification then, ideally, you need to have a consortium of universities on board.”

Roodhouse thinks universities might not be comfortable with the idea of accepting these employer awarded qualifications. He also thinks that any organisation attempting to liaise with universities over workplace qualifications would be wise to do it through a third party. “Universities have very complex quality assurance arrangements that are very difficult to negotiate if you don’t know you way through them,” he says.


HE@Work helps organisations develop their in-house training to award employees recognised and transferable higher education credits that meet the standards required by higher education establishments. According to a survey commissioned by HE@Work, there is a strong employee demand for such schemes. Of the almost 5,000 individuals polled, 85% wanted to learn more about studying for an employer-specific accredited degree or postgraduate qualification.

Fortunately, employers are cottoning on to this. The Automobile Association (AA) enables staff to validate their workplace learning with a university. Middle managers can take advantage of a partnership between the AA and Coventry University to earn points towards a degree or an NVQ Level 3 in management. The project is backed by a £4m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Case study: McDonald’s

David Fairhurst, senior vice-president and chief people officer at McDonald’s, said it wanted to develop externally recognised qualifications for some of its management training.

For example, a basic shift managers’ course will be piloted for one year. The programme will be broken into credits, in line with QCF guidelines, to allow the course to be recognised. It will cover everything managers need to know for the day-to-day running of a McDonald’s restaurant, from basic operational requirements to finance, marketing and HR.

To become an official awarding body, McDonald’s had to meet criteria set out by the QCA. For example, it had to show a distinct separation between normal training and the awarding body status training. “We had to show that the development and delivery of the training is separate to assessment,” says Fairhurst. “We also worked with the catering sector skills council to ensure the training fitted industry needs.”

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