From education to employment

Putting validity at the heart of what we do

Jeremy Benson is executive director of vocational qualifications at Ofqual

Vocational qualifications play a big role in education and training, and we want everyone to have confidence in them. Employers should be able to trust the vocational qualifications they use to recruit and develop staff. Students should know that doors will open for them because of the qualifications they have. While most vocational qualifications are working as they should, there are some that fall short of the standards people expect.

So we’re changing the way we regulate. We’re putting validity at the heart of what we do. That means focusing on whether qualifications serve the purpose for which they are intended rather than on the details of how they’re designed. We’re setting higher expectations of regulated awarding organisations, who will also need to take responsibility for their qualifications. We’re planning how we can support the reformed apprenticeships. And we’ve taken a good look at our own role in the vocational qualification system, identified where we could do better and how we propose to make changes.

First, we reviewed the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) and found it wanting. As a result, we have proposed to remove the QCF rules – though not QCF qualifications, if they are of the right standard. The QCF imposes a strict set of rules, which do not always support the development of good qualifications. We found that the QCF focuses too much on design and structure and not enough on validity and standards. We know that there are things that some people like about the QCF. But, we also know that some qualifications were damaged by changes made to meet the QCF rules.

We recently consulted on these proposals for the QCF and are currently reviewing the responses before making a decision.

Second, after consultation, we made the decision to remove the accreditation requirement for most qualifications. This will come into effect on 3rd November. This means we will no longer accredit qualifications. Accreditation is a check at a single point in time and it’s easy to assume it provides a lifelong seal of approval. But it can’t: qualifications have to be right at all stages – design, development, delivery, awarding and review. So we will monitor and audit awarding organisations to check they are ensuring validity at each stage.

Finally, we are improving the information we publish about qualifications and making it easier to access. At the moment, our Register of Regulated Qualifications isn’t easy to use and it doesn’t help colleges make informed choices, nor help employers understand the detail of the qualifications.

Awarding organisations will need to play their part, too. They will need to know who their qualification is for and review whether it’s meeting their needs. They’ll need to know what knowledge, skills and understanding are being assessed. And they will also need to justify their assessment methods, which should be valid and maintain standards. Many do this already – but not all.

We expect awarding organisations to be experts both in their sectors and in assessment. Vocational qualifications assess a wide range of practical and academic skills, along with detailed, technical and professional knowledge, which require different assessment approaches. Awarding organisations must make sure that assessors’ judgements are reliable and that qualifications keep up with the latest innovations in professional and technical practice.

So, we’re regulating vocational qualifications more intelligently and setting higher expectations of awarding organisations. Of course, qualifications are only part of the picture. High quality teaching and real hands-on experience are what develop skills and deliver benefits to learners, to employers and to the economy.

As we develop our plans, we’re going to talk to colleges, teachers, employers and professionals in vocational education and training. This will help us to improve how we regulate for validity. If you’d like to be part of that conversation, we’d love to hear from you and you can contact us via our Helpdesk- Telephone 0300 303 3346 or email: [email protected].

Jeremy Benson is executive director of vocational qualifications at Ofqual, the qualifications regulator


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