Proposed tougher criteria on which awards are eligible for public funding could see thousands of sports courses squeezed out in a move which would also hit the colleges which run them through franchising deals. Under franchising colleges pay others to run programmes for them.
The Central Council of Physical Recreation warned that national sports coaching could be drastically hit if funding was axed. Many of the athletes competing in the Atlanta Olympics will have been coached as youngsters by volunteers holding training qualifications.
Meanwhile David Eade, Barnsley College principal and a member of the council of the Further Education Funding Council, warned the proposed changes could hit access courses for adults not yet ready for full vocational qualifications. "I am concerned we could see a considerable cut in those students colleges could serve because there would no longer be funding."
Coaching qualifications could fall foul of revised criteria because the national sports governing bodies which issue the awards also deliver training. The problem could also apply to other bodies such as the Red Cross and St John Ambulance, which issue first aid awards and run training funded via college franchise deals.
The rules, put out for consultation this week by the Department for Education and Employment include a move to clamp down on awarding bodies delivering training, which ministers fear could create a conflict of interest.
The DFEE is proposing that awarding bodies may not also provide learning or training for their courses unless they can prove they have "robust measures" to ensure quality. Ministers have been embarrassed by allegations of shoddy standards and of colleges cashing in on courses such as scuba diving where the numbers qualifying exceed available jobs.
If the sports courses are no longer eligible for funding, it would cause dire problems for some of the 60 colleges who run them through franchising arrangements with sports governing bodies.
The CCPR, the umbrella organisation representing sports governing bodies, is now considering proposing that each becomes solely an awarding body.
Meanwhile other awarding bodies and colleges have welcomed DFEE efforts to insist on greater quality controls on vocational awards but raised fears that necessary qualifications could be knocked off the funding list in the purge of less respectable examples.
Ken Ruddiman, principal of Sheffield College, warned that scope for developing new qualifications to meet new training needs could be curbed by the changes. "We must not simply end up training only in those areas which are already being measured."
Isabel Sutcliffe, deputy chief executive of the North-east-based awarding body NCFE, said the new criteria would mean the body re-examining its 100 qualifications and probably squeezing out some.
She suspected a hidden Government agenda to protect its flagship national vocational qualifications and drive out others. She said: "We are convinced that taking this to the logical extreme only NVQs and general national vocational qualifications will find a place and that would be a disaster in terms of upskilling the workforce."
Until rationalisation was put on the agenda last Christmas, awarding bodies had simply had to send the name of a new qualification to the DFEE to secure approval, she said.
Awarding bodies' and colleges' scepticism over NVQs is widely shared. Around 900 of the qualifications are currently accredited, but the National Council for Vocational Qualifications admits 8 per cent are redundant. Many in the sector put the proportion far higher.