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Employers to shape 'vocational' reform

An overhaul of qualifications will take its cue from the workplace.

Ian Nash reports

THE most radical reform of work-based qualifications since the creation of NVQs will be published in a White Paper this June.

They will include more "bite-sized" affordable short courses, designed to meet the needs of employers, particularly small to medium-sized firms, and more emphasis on learning "units" which people can take from one job to another while working on nationally-recognised qualifications.

The reform will overhaul the qualifications framework which learning and skills minister Ivan Lewis says is "too inflexible". He recently asked the Learning and Skills Council, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Sector Skills Development Agency, which represents employers'

interests, to recommend reforms.

"They are reporting to me this month and there will be a White Paper in June," said Mr Lewis, adding that he wanted employers to play a leading role in shaping the new qualifications framework.

Ken Boston, QCA chief executive and chair of the three-party group, also said he wanted employers to be in the driving seat. The QCA believes the reforms would have wide implications for schools and colleges. A QCAspokesman said: "The remit's programme of work will lead to a flexible, more coherent framework of qualifications which reflects both individuals'

and employers' needs, with pathways through from 14."

The White Paper recommendations will feed into the review of post-14 qualifications being carried out by former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson, who is due to make his first report at the end of the year. Mr Tomlinson has a five to 10-year agenda, but the reform's benefits are expected sooner than that.

John Harwood, LSC chief executive, stressed the urgency in an interview for a 16-page special report on learning reforms published in The TES this week. He said: "It is a long-term agenda, but progress has to be made in the short term. It is not all jam in five years and nothing in the meantime."

The White Paper is part of the Government's strategy, announced this week, to get more employers involved in training staff, produce better vocational education and aim government support at young and unskilled adults. As part of the strategy, the LSC also launched the Great Skills Debate to promote partnerships among schools, colleges and employers.

Mr Lewis, who is also interviewed in the special report, said: "We will publish a radical approach in June."

But he also promised that change would be manageable and costed.

"We need to tackle the weaknesses but we do not want to throw the system into chaos," he said.

June is a watershed month for adult learning. A range of initiatives to tackle basic skills will include the relaunch of the ill-fated Individual Learning Accounts, which will be targeted at those in greatest need.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, this week set out the Government's vision to boost the skills and productivity of the workforce with a key message to colleges to improve their service to employers. He said: "Too many of them tell us that what you are doing is not relevant to their needs."

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