Ofqual launches consultation on regulating fully-funded digital skills training

Ofqual has launched a consultation into how best to regulate the government’s new digital skills qualifications, which will be provided for free to adults lacking in basic skills.

The exam regulator’s proposals for the new qualifications include not setting any rules on the number of assessments required and implementing a single pass/fail grading model.

All adults without basic digital skills will be able to enrol on the new qualifications free of charge from 2020, as previously reported by FE Week.

Free digital skills training for adults was first announced by the government in October 2016, and became law in April 2017 as part of the Digital Economy Act. Funding for the courses will come from the existing £1.5 billion annual adult education budget.

The Department for Education launched its own consultation into the new national standards for digital skills last month, including plans for new qualifications at ‘beginner’ and ‘essential’ levels.

The Ofqual consultation document said the DfE has “set out an expectation that flexibility and innovation should be encouraged in the development of these new qualifications” to ensure that the needs of a “diverse range of learners” can be met.

“We recognise however that the more flexibility we allow in the design of the qualifications, the less comparable the qualifications offered by different awarding organisations will be. This is an inevitable trade off.”

One of the proposals Ofqual is consulting on is the requirement to make sure that all basic digital skills qualifications comply with all the skills areas set out in the DfE’s standards once they are drawn up.

“We think that this is key to ensuring that learners gain the digital skills needed for life, work and further study, as government intends,” the consultation document said.

“We are not proposing to set any detailed rules on the number of assessments required, assessment time or availability of assessments.

“While this approach may reduce the comparability of assessments offered by different awarding organisations, we feel that it is important that awarding organisations have flexibility to design qualifications that meet the needs of various groups of adult learners, and that it is valuable to users for these qualifications to be available on demand.”

Ofqual is also consulting on whether to allow “unitisation” within the new qualifications, and is proposing that centres should be permitted to mark the beginner level qualifications, while essential level qualifications should be marked by awarding organisations.

It is also proposing to make it a condition that learners have a minimum of 45 hours guided learning time, carrying out a “technical evaluation” of all new qualifications to consider their design and proposed delivery and requiring all awarding organisations to develop an assessment strategy document to explain their approach to each qualification.

 The consultation is open for 10 weeks, and will close on January 13.