From education to employment

Our first priority – protecting the interests of our learners

FE News and the whole vocational education sector is rightly concerned about the prospects for learners who are ‘caught in the crossfire’ between training providers and awarding organisations when the trainer/awarder relationship irretrievably breaks down (for whatever reason).

In these cases the learner is left ‘high and dry’, wondering if they will ever receive the certificate that they have striven for, and desperately need, to go onto further training, education or into employment.

I am not in a position to argue the rights and wrongs of past and current cases, but suffice it to say, that the learners who are affected by these sad situations are not at fault, they are merely injured bystanders, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is little comfort to those directly impacted to say: “well, there are 9,267,000 vocational qualification certificates issued in a year, so you are one of a minute minority affected by these problems.” This is cold comfort indeed if you are in the unfortunate minority.

Surely we must collectively be able to do something to protect these innocent learners if the worst does happen?

Think of the Motor Insurer’s Bureau, a not-for-profit company, established by statute, which protects legally insured drivers from the one million uninsured car drivers in the UK. If you have an accident with an uninsured driver, your claim is covered – simple!

The Insurance industry pays for it of course, but that is obviously preferable to the chaos that would ensue if the claims were left ‘hanging’ and unpaid.
In our case, it must surely be feasible, to establish an independent body (possibly led by the regulator and our excellent trade association, FAB) to collect and control a fund that would only be used in the last resort, in the event of learners being caught in a trap not of their making, and after every avenue for reconciliation between the AO and Training Provider has been exhausted. The fund would be used to allow them to complete their assessments and gain their certificates.

As to cost, a voluntary contribution of only 5p per certificate issued would raise nearly half a million pounds in the first year!

I, for one, would be willing to volunteer to contribute to the initiative as a way to protect learners, and the reputation of all UK Awarding Organisations.

This proposal would require a significant investment in terms of time and effort, but the long term benefits are very tangible:

1. Clear protection for the very small minority of learners who are affected by these cases

2. Participating Awarding Organisations will have a clear, and positive, differentiation from those who chose not to contribute to the fund.

3. Such a self-regulated approach is far more effective compared with further rules and regulations imposed externally

4. The scheme would represent a very powerful example of a reputational risk ‘insurance policy’ for the whole market.

John McNamara is managing director of Lifetime Awarding, an awarding organisation working with education centres and employers to provide industry recognised vocational qualifications

The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author

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