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Logos loom at end of qualification maze

IS GRADE 3 ballet more difficult than grade three tap? And how does learning to install central heating compare with studying GCSE physics?

These are the questions that the Government's qualifications quango has had to consider in a huge project to clarify the maze of qualifications facing students and employers.

Potential blacksmiths, miners, tree surgeons and ballet dancers will soon have a clearer idea what qualifications are on offer and how to use them as stepping stones to their chosen career.

Government advisers hope to create a qualifications framework which will guide teachers, employers and students through the current mass of qualifications.

There are currently more than 17,500 publicly-funded qualifications and more than 250 awarding bodies. While one third of these - including GCSE, A-level, GNVQ and NVQ - are strictly regulated by the Government's qualifications quango much less is known about the remaining two thirds.

Every publicly-funded course is to be evaluated to ensure that students and employers understand its worth. And each awarding body will have to abide by the same code of practice so that students can expect the same standards no matter who offers their course.

The code of practice will set the standards for the new framework, which will operate in England, Wales and Northern Irland from September 2001. It will classify each qualification as subject based, vocational or occupational and according to the level of difficulty.

Each awarding body will have to submit its syllabuses - now known as specifications - for accreditation and satisfy government advisers that they are needed and will be assessed in a reliable and fair way. Every publicly funded qualification will be considered for accreditation before the new framework is launched.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority plans to approve qualifications sector by sector: childcare courses and A-level syllabuses have already been accredited and work has just begun on new GCSE specifications for 2001.

Qualifications which meet the new rigorous criteria will be able to flaunt their approved status with logos on their certificates and specifications.

Those who fail will lose their funding.

Every vocational and occupational qualification must be made up of units with a certificate awarded after completion of each one.

A spokeswoman for the QCA said: "It is about guaranteeing standards for users.

However we first have to know what is out there.

"We want to identify the need for qualifications. We want this framework to be driven by what students and employers want and need not by providers of qualifications."

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