Gemma Gathercole outlines her views on the new qualifications framework coming into force next month.

Anyone that works in the awarding sector will understand that for us change is the only constant. I was involved in qualification development during the introduction of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), and now we are at the dawn of another new qualifications framework, the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

This is the third qualifications framework I have experienced during my time at OCR and the framework is only one aspect of the qualifications system that is subject to reform. You would be forgiven for thinking that all this framework change matters only to the awarding bodies (and for a large part, I think you’d be right), but the framework does fundamentally affect what we develop and therefore what is delivered in classrooms and work places.

I recently gave an update to one of our teams at OCR about what the implications were of replacing the QCF with the RQF. I used a slide containing two pictures; the first was of a person whose arms had been freed from chains that were binding them and the second was a sign that said ‘this changes everything’ only ‘everything’ was crossed through and ‘nothing’ was written over the top. I think the reality of the implications of the RQF is probably somewhere between the two.

The introduction of the RQF provides awarding bodies with greater flexibilities when we are creating qualifications or reviewing and refreshing or replacing existing ones. The QCF relied too heavily on structural regulations that stifled rather than supported innovation.

The RQF, created to be a descriptive framework, allows us to design and develop qualifications in ways that meet the identified purpose of the qualification, in a size and structure that supports that purpose.

It also supports Ofqual’s role as the regulator of awarding organisations. It is their expectation of us that we have processes, procedures and experience in place to design, develop and award valid and reliable qualifications.

So if the RQF gives awarding organisations greater flexibility, it also brings greater emphasis on our responsibilities. The RQF once again returns us to the role of owners of the content and design of our qualifications and it is a responsibility we welcome.

If the new framework gives awarding organisations greater flexibility, it also brings greater emphasis on our responsibilities

It is an opportunity that awarding organisations must take full advantage of. We want to be able to directly engage with stakeholders about the content and assessment of our qualifications; we want to ensure that they lead to positive outcomes. The changes to the framework and other associated changes have removed some obstacles that became barriers to this sort of engagement.

Part of the difficulties with the QCF came with the speed of its implementation, which were as much the responsibility of funding drivers as the introduction of the QCF itself. We are particularly glad to see that this is not a step that will be repeated. Although the RQF officially comes into effect on October 1, there is to be a phased transition for existing qualifications with the requirements on removing reference to QCF from qualification titles and ensuring that all qualifications assign a total qualification time value by December 31, 2017.

So what does this mean for those providers offering QCF qualifications? In the short-term, probably very little. Ofqual has confirmed that where qualifications are valid and reliable they can continue. Awarding organisations must keep their qualifications under review to update and withdraw or redevelop when they no longer meet the need they were designed to address. As those reviews happen you may see changes to qualifications that replace them, but these changes will not necessarily be due to the framework, unlike when the QCF was introduced.

Frameworks, like qualification reforms, need time to settle in and embed themselves. So, we and other awarding organisations have again a big responsibility to explain our qualifications and their position in the system in a way that is clear and easily understood by learners, educators and employers. And hopefully, this framework acronym will be the last one we have to explain.