Despite Ofqual announcing that the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is set for the FE and skills graveyard, Stephen Wright considers whether any life might remain in the system yet.

In 2004, then-Chancellor Gordon Brown and Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris invited Alexander (now Lord) Leitch to consider the UK’s long-term ambition for developing skills.

The subsequent Leitch report of December 2006 paved the way for the Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF) which was launched in 2008.

The hope was that a framework of qualifications built using combinations of shared, standardised units would bring flexibility and order to the “jungle” of qualifications, with common descriptors and structures.

Learners would be issued with a Unique Learner Number (ULN) and a computer based “learner achievement record” which would use a powerful database of available units and qualifications to check progress towards their target qualification as well as seeing what other qualifications the units contribute to. They could also share the banked information with a potential employer.

Now, six years after the launch of the QCF, it has been condemned by Ofqual as promoting a tick box approach that is not fit for purpose. This, together with a realignment of Ofqual from accreditation of qualifications to regulation of the awarding sector, has led to the announcement that “it will remove the QCF rules” — is this the end of the QCF? Well, maybe not.

Gone is accreditation — the QCF was “policed” by Ofqual who accredited the qualifications put forward by awarding organisations (AOs). However, in reality Ofqual never had the resource to evaluate the thousands of qualifications on the QCF and the process become a fairly meaningless tick box exercise.

Ofqual has now lifted the accreditation role in favour of becoming a more thorough regulator with AOs enjoying more freedom to add qualifications to the framework, but facing increased scrutiny and extended requirements with a focus on validity.

Gone are shared units — the learner achievement record required AOs to build qualifications from shared units.

However, a number of flaws in this plan were pointed out including the loss of intellectual property, a disincentive to develop new content and an uncertainty about ownership, especially when a unit was withdrawn or redesigned. While AOs can still cooperate, the removal of the shared unit requirement will see a return to qualifications that are particular to individual awarding organisations.

The removal of the shared unit requirement will see a return to qualifications that are particular to individual awarding organisations

Going – Regulatory IT system (RITS) — the existing system will need to be redeveloped to meet the new Ofqual system.

Going might be the QCF brand — the Impact Assessment document suggests that Ofqual has decided to allow the use of QCF in the title in certain circumstances as long as it is not misleading. The wider use of the brand is still under review. It has been in the market for nearly a decade and AOs have invested heavily in promoting and explaining it to learners and employers.

The loss of the name would throw away brand value and create uncertainty for little or no gain.

Going might also be size descriptors — the QCF introduced common size descriptors of awards (one to 12 credits), certificates (13 to 36 credits) and diplomas (37 credits or more), with a credit being 10 hours of learning.

Redesigning and titling qualifications to meet these descriptors required the renaming of well-established qualifications and considerable effort, however most AOs are through the pain and beginning to enjoy the benefits of clarity.

Coming might be recognition of AOs by level, sector and purpose — it is unclear how this will be applied, and the potential impact is to restrict the number of AOs in any particular sector or level.

The QCF hasn’t delivered Lord Leitch’s vision, however at an enormous investment in both time and money and with a number of flaws, it does bring some clarity and rationality to the vocational qualification provision.

The most common comment at the recent consultation was “not to throw the baby out with the bath water” so hopefully we will end up with a new single framework which retains the elements of the QCF that work.