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It's still a jungle out there

Twenty-five years ago this week, ministers felt the free market in school and college exams was so out of control, they promised to clear the "qualifications jungle" once and for all.

Fifteen years on, where were we? Joint research by The TES and Lancaster University in 1997 revealed the situation was no better, with more than 16,000 qualifications on offer in FE alone.

Participants in the research admitted to being more confused than ever.

Worse, they concluded that most qualifications were not worth the paper they were written on and that the drive to certificate everything in order to attract cash for courses was a big part of the problem.

In addition, they said the rise of employer-backed NVQs served only to debase qualifications. These and similar qualifications were seen as "part of the old government keeping people off the unemployment lists."

Ministers accepted the research findings and promised action. A major task of the new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was to thin the jungle - as the Government said - for once and for all. The FE dash for certificate cash was ended and the trimming began.

So, how many qualifications do we have after 10 years of pruning and the creation of QCA? At the last count, 22,000.

Last year's Leitch review of skills the UK needs for 2020 proposed giving the 25 sector skills councils, representing all industries, responsibility to "develop a shortlist of valid qualifications, with a very significant reduction in the overall number by 2008".

This has led to something of a spat between educationists and employers over who should take charge and suggestions that QCA has failed.

In fairness to the QCA, it has now put the Qualifications and Credit Framework into action, in the hope of radically cutting the 22,000. And remember, it was employers and their demand for relevant qualifications that caused much of the growth in the first place.

But FErret is sceptical in either case, betting that by 2008 the qualifications jungle will still have more than 16,000 thriving plants.

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