In an embarrassing U-turn, the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink has dropped controversial plans for mandatory vetting of apprenticeship qualifications.
The body, which leads the food and drink apprenticeship trailblazer group, recently announced that any awarding organisation wanting to develop their own versions of qualifications included in food and drink standards must submit a draft to the chair of the group for approval.
But the NSAFD was forced into a climbdown after FE Week pointed out that the policy contravened the Institute for Apprenticeships’ rules.
The announcement had sparked fears that the NSAFD, which happens to own the only awarding body offering the qualifications in three of the standards, was trying to restrict the market.
After its change in heart, NSAFD’s chief executive Justine Fosh told FE Week that there “had been a widespread understanding in what is a complex landscape, that the employers had a responsibility, to confirm that proposed mandated qualifications were in line with the industry design and therefore the criteria proposed for funding”.
She continued: “However, in dialogue with the IfA it is now clear that this can be done as a voluntary, rather than compulsory approach,” Ms Fosh said.
She also gave her thanks to FE Week “for identifying and helping clarify the situation”.
Four standards developed by the food and drink trailblazer group and approved for delivery include mandatory qualifications.
The qualifications for level two food and drink process operator, level three food and drink advanced process operator, food and drink maintenance engineer at level three are currently only offered by Occupational Awards Limited, which the NSAFD bought in July 2016.
Terry Fennell, the chief executive of awarding body FDQ, which plans to submit a version of the diploma mandated in the level two food and drink process operator standard for approval by Ofqual in June, hit out at the NSAFD.
“A free and open market must come before self-interest,” he said, criticising it for attempting to “arbitrarily extend the remit of the food and drink-related trailblazer it supports with the intention of restricting or sanctioning qualifications that may offer competition to the version already offered by its own AO”.
Mr Fennell said the FDQ version of the food and drink process operations qualification would “comply with Ofqual general conditions of recognition and align with the IfA approved assessment plan”.
He continued: “With validity assured by the regulatory and responsible quality authorities it is for employers and providers to decide, on which qualification they wish to procure.”
The IfA was unable to comment on the controversy, due to the purdah, or period of silence, it is obliged to maintain during the run up to a general election.
Guidance published by the IfA makes it clear that trailblazer groups can’t limit which awarding bodies can offer mandatory qualifications.
Where a standard includes such a qualification, it “must name the qualification in terms which do not ascribe it to a specific awarding body so that any awarding body which is Ofqual regulated and offers that qualification can do so”.
“In the case of a regulated qualification, you should not specify a particular awarding organisation, as you could otherwise prevent another awarding organisation from developing a qualification for the standard.”
In March, FE Week reported that the UK’s food and drink apprenticeship frameworks could be switched off against the government’s wishes.
The NSAFD, which retains the powers of an issuing authority from its previous incarnation as a sector skills council, ran a consultation on whether or not to cancel the frameworks it administers.
Details of “any actions to be taken is expected in April”, according to its website – but nothing has yet been published.