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The exams maze could end in tiers

Colleges devise a system to simplify confusion over qualifications. Sue Learner reports.

A GROUP of innovative college principals have come up with a simplified system to help post-16 students negotiate their way through the current maze of more than 16,000 qualifications.

Students and parents currently wade through myriad qualifications including BTECs, GNVQs, GCSEs, AVCEs and NVQs. Many are left wondering about their value.

Principals have now devised a four-tier system to standardise all these qualifications. They envisage a foundation level including key skills and citizenship programmes, an intermediate level which will include qualifications like GCSEs, a national level including A-levels, and a higher level for qualifications like HNDs.

This is similar to a proposed framework being put forward for the 14-19 curriculum in the Government's new Green Paper. However, the government proposal does not include a foundation level and fails to sort out the huge number of qualifications on offer at FE colleges.

John Rudd, principal of The People's College in Nottingham, has managed to secure funding from consultants KPMG for research into the idea.

Alan Birks, principal of South Birmingham College, who is helping to mastermind the project ,said: "It is an almost incomprehensible gamut of qualifications. We want to simplify the system to help parents and students to understand what is going on.

"With a unit-based framework we will be using terminology that business employers understand."

The idea came about last year after principals discussed the possibility of setting up their own examining body after colleges complained that Edexcel had provided late and inaccurate results.

The principals decided it would not be feasible to do this but came up with the plan to simplify the system.

Mr Birks said: "FE has to 'peddle' too many qualifications. No wonder the chair of the Learning and Skills Council refers to colleges as the market stall traders of the education sector.

"We have more than 400 colleges, and in total we spend more than pound;100 million every year. We thought that for that amount of money we would be able to come up with a better system of accreditation.

"We thought it might be possible to get an outside system to administer it and and universities to accredit it. We want the universities involved to bridge the gap between FE and higher education.

"I am not suggesting this as a panacea or the only solution but anything has to be better than the mess we have at present.

"We also need to remember that we spend a lot of money on the current system and our students, their parents and employers deserve better."

Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality at the Association of Colleges has met the principals to discuss the idea. She said: "We are going to have a consultation event and discuss it with our members. The whole of FE would be interested in a clarification of the system but we would want to make sure everyone is in agreement.

"We have to be careful to strike a balance between making the system more easily understandable and meeting the learners' needs."

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