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Qualifications developments in England

Most qualifications in England are now being placed within a new Qualifications and Credit Framework. Vocational and work-related qualifications are being changed again in order to become more responsive to the demands of employers and learners. One tool in this reform of vocational qualifications is the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). The QCF is the new framework for creating and accrediting qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a key part of the reform of the vocational qualifications system, in order for the system to become simpler to understand and use, more accessible to a wider range of learners, and more relevant to learners’ and employers’ needs. Learners can build up their units at their own pace and put them towards a full qualification. They can bank all their achievements over time and keep them as they move from education into a job or from one job to another. They don’t have to study anything they already know. In the QCF, everything learnt is valuable. All qualifications in the QCF are built from smaller units of learning.

The QCF:
  • recognises smaller steps of learning and enables learners to build up qualifications bit by bit
  • helps learners achieve skills and qualifications that meet industry needs
  • enables work-based training to be nationally recognised.
Every unit and qualification in the QCF has a credit value that indicates how long it takes to complete — one credit represents 10 hours’ work. Each unit and qualification also has its level, between Entry level and level 8, to show how difficult it is. In the QCF, learners accumulate credit in small steps by completing units, which can then build up into a full qualification. There are three sizes of qualification
in the QCF:
  • Award (1 to 12 credits)
  • Certificate (13 to 36 credits)
  • Diploma (37 credits or more).
Each qualification title contains:
  • the level of the qualification (from Entry level to level 8)
  • the size of qualification (Award/Certificate/Diploma)
  • details indicating the content of the qualification.
This approach describes what subject the qualification covers, how difficult it is and how much work it involves and is intended to help learners and employers compare different qualifications. Foundation Learning helps learners working at Entry level and level 1 in the QCF in England to develop their potential and prepares them to progress towards level 2 and other routes. Learners can avoid duplicating the
learning and assessment they have already done in three ways:
  • with achievement from within the QCF, learners can transfer credits between units and qualifications
  • other learning and achievements that have not been certificated can be assessed and awarded through 'recognising prior learning'
  • learners with certificated achievements outside the QCF, who already have the skills and knowledge for a unit, can claim 'exemption' and not have to repeat their learning.
The intention is that employers will benefit from the QCF by:
  • having more say on what qualifications are developed (with QCF qualifications being designed in response to employers' demands)
  • having a more appropriately skilled workforce
  • helping them to attract and retain employees by being able to offer nationally recognised qualifications
  • benefitting from a more flexible qualifications system through shaping training around relevant QCF units
  • understand qualifications more easily — all QCF qualifications have titles that state how long each one takes to complete, level of difficulty and subject matter.

Critiques of the policy failure around the introduction of a pure outcomes-based system are offered in:

Brown, A. (2011) Lessons from Policy Failure: The Demise of a National Qualifications Framework Based Solely on Learning Outcomes in England, Journal of Contemporary Educational Studies, Volume 62, Issue5, pp 36-55.

Brown, A. (2011): Problems with National Qualifications Frameworks in practice: The English case. In: Austrian Open Access Journal of Adult Education. Issue 14, article 04, 1 -12. Vienna.