Ofqual looks at scrapping QCF rules and reviews qualification sizes

Ofqual has launched two 12-week consultations looking at the future of the qualifications and credit framework (QCF) rules and how awarding organisations (AOs) estimate and describe the size of their qualifications.

The consultation on the QCF, which was launched in 2008, proposes that qualifications be regulated by Ofqual’s general conditions of recognition.

The second, Guided Learning Hours (GLH), consultation puts forward changes to AOs’ estimates of the size of their qualifications and the descriptions of size they use.

It was, according to an Ofqual spokesperson, driven partly by the need to put a new approach in place to support the government’s Raising the Participation Age policy.

Meanwhile, other proposals in the QCF consultation include ending the requirement for AOs to share units as well as maintaining options for awarding organisations to design qualifications broken down into units.

Jeremy Benson, Ofqual’s director of policy, said: “For some time now there have been concerns about the QCF and its potential to stand in the way of good quality qualifications and innovation.

“We have found that the QCF rules focus too much on design and structure, such as credit and units, and not enough on qualification standards and quality.

“We want to remove those rules so that AOs can have more freedom to develop qualifications that students and employers can have confidence in.

“This isn’t the end for qualifications based upon the QCF; we expect those QCF qualifications which are good quality and valuable to remain. But where they are found to fall short of our requirements, we would expect them to be either developed or withdrawn.”

The two consultations come amid a third from Ofqual in which non-accredited qualifications would appear on its official register, and several from the wider FE and skills sector including one on traineeships jointly from the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

A BIS consultation on FE loans is also live, while another from the Education Funding Agency on funding 16 to 19 study programmes is expected to launch shortly.

Nevertheless, Jill Lanning, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said she was happy to see the QCF consultation.

“While we were happy to support the development of a QCF, FAB has long argued that many of the regulatory requirements of the QCF needed radical change. So we are pleased to see that the consultation document contains many of the proposals that we have been making for some years,” she told FE Week.

“With Ofqual, we believe that awarding bodies should have the flexibility to design qualifications and the associated assessment in a way that delivers the best possible qualifications, which are fit for purpose and meet the needs of learners and employers.”

Andy Walls, head of vocational quality and the Joint Council for Qualifications, said: “We have been talking to Ofqual for months about this process so we’re glad to see the consultation has finally come out.

“We welcome the chance to comment on the QCF and on vocational qualifications — QCF and GLH are of course linked so it makes sense to consult on them at the same time.”

A spokesperson for Pearson said: “The removal of these framework rules will give us more freedom to continue to develop qualifications that students, providers and employers can value and have confidence in.”

Judith Norrington, director of policy, research and regulation at City and Guilds Group, said: “We have long believed that the current QCF rules do not fully support the development of high quality vocational qualifications, sometimes hampering AOs’ ability to work directly with industry to design the right qualifications.”

She added: “Ending the requirement for AOs to share units is also a positive step forward for the sector as it will demand a real sense of ownership from awarding organisations and ensure that the only qualifications to be offered will be those that are truly designed with employer and learner needs at the forefront.

“While we recognise that whole qualifications make sense for lots of people, there is still a place for units in some cases. Particularly among vulnerable groups such as the unemployed or prisoners, taking a small part of a qualification can help to build confidence and give someone a real sense of his or her own progression.

“We advocate flexibility to allow different sizes of units based entirely on the needs of individuals rather than a set framework that does little more than act as a straightjacket.’

Andrew Gladstone-Heighton, NCFE futures team policy leader, said: “There are many changes that are currently taking place across the sector with regards to vocational education, and some of the proposals made, along with other consultations — such as that focussed on GLH — may bring some unwelcome turbulence to the sector.

“However, our main hope is that these changes will not have a detrimental impact on the learner and that if these proposed changes are carefully considered and implemented they will improve the standards and quality for all.”

Both consultations close on Thursday, October 16. The QCF consultation can be found here and the GLH consultation here.