From education to employment

Gateway Qualifications says it’s not the framework, it’s the qualification

Awarding Organisation and Access Validating Agency Gateway Qualifications has spoken out in support of the recent announcement from the Skills Funding Agency that it will now fund qualifications which do not comply with the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

Gateway Qualifications, which rebranded recently, is among the top five AOs for SFA fundable qualifications for 2015-16 and insists the broader approach is to be welcomed.

Julie Hewitt, director of business development and customer relationships, said it is the correlation between the content of the qualification and the understanding of the learner journey which delivers best outcomes.

“Awarding organisations, of course, have a duty to develop fit-for-purpose qualifications that encourage progression and our view is that the SFA has recognised this in its new technical guidance,” said Hewitt.

“Our experience confirms that providers are often best placed to judge student needs and ensure continuity of quality in delivery. Taking a lead from the market rather than simply applying a strict top-down regulatory framework seems to us the logical extension of this philosophy.”

Gateway Qualifications points to practical examples of the success achieved when awarding organisations work closely with providers to offer high value qualifications.

With East Kent College, for example, the target group was young people at risk of finding themselves in the much-talked about NEET category, this in an area of high deprivation with the highest rate of unemployment in the region and educational completion for those under 16 well below average, with only half successfully achieving five A* – C GCSE grades.

In seeking to encourage more young people to stay on in education, the accent was placed firmly on building confidence and enthusiasm. This was not driven by a narrow interpretation of what the QCF had to offer, but by the likely outcomes for learners and the ease of process for teachers.

Twelve vocation-specific courses were developed; in catering, construction, childcare, hairdressing, beauty, sport, carpentry, motor vehicle repair, bricklaying, painting and decorating, ICT and computing and health and social care.

Vocation-specific modules were supported by core units, with provision for course suitability, three different points of access during the year and fast-track options to Level 2 within one academic year.

While Gateway Qualifications advised on and developed these vocation-specific certificates, East Kent College led with training and development sessions for teachers.

The ‘Progression Curriculum’ at East Kent College delivered noticeable results in 2012/13, the first year from launch, with a momentum 10% increase in retention, and student success above national average. A full 100% of students expressed satisfaction with their course and there are now more than 300 learners enrolled on the Progression Curriculum. Finally, a follow-up study found that over 20% of previously designated NEETS were finding employment upon course completion.

Hewitt said that at East Kent a template has been established for others to follow which owes everything to course content.

“We believe that being framework neutral liberates AOs and Colleges alike to develop innovative courses like the Progression Curriculum at East Kent without fear of the funding environment,” she said.

“Learners and teachers need providers to think creatively and the QCF framework was well intentioned but ultimately too rigid and bureaucratic to stimulate this kind of initiative.”

Working with high profile partners provides further evidence that it’s content and delivery which matters most. Condè Nast, publishers of iconic magazine Vogue, chose Gateway Qualifications to work with when it planned the launch of its own College of Fashion and Design. Level 4 qualifications developed from this collaboration helped students from the College to enter the world of their highest ambitions.

A commitment to put learners at the heart of FE means that employability is always high on the agenda. Gateway Qualifications works with a number of specialist sector customers in areas such as Adult Education and Young Offenders. Others offer courses in diverse subjects such as Fitness, Football, Art, Construction and Food.

Leading FE colleges such as Newham College of Further Education work with Gateway Qualifications across a broad range of vocational qualifications from Art & Design through to Warehousing. The emphasis is on providing innovative, flexible and dynamic qualifications which develop technical competence and also provide prospective employers with the ‘soft’ skills which often make the difference at interview stage. This ‘built-in’ approach to employability also matches qualifications to learners’ needs.

Liz Laycock, vice principal of quality improvement and learning development at Newham College, said: “Working closely with Gateway Qualifications on the development of their suite of vocational qualifications has ensured that we have access to a range of qualifications that really meet the needs of our learners.”

Hewitt added: “Arguably successive Governments have allowed themselves to be diverted away from the role of FE generally and vocational qualifications specifically, in what many of us see as a largely redundant discussion about the number of university graduates and the continuing debate about fees.

“It’s consistency of quality, flexibility in content and fit-for-purpose qualifications that encourage progression in students and will enable employers to select, with confidence, from a well-motivated pool of qualified applicants.

It’s not a rigid framework that will deliver this but consistently high standards of content and qualifications in which students, teachers and employers have confidence.”

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