On November 6 last, Baroness Blackstone, the minister for higher and further education, launched the Assessment Qualifications Alliance (AQA), the new body that will provide the A-levels, GCSEs and GNVQs awarded by the Associated Examining Board (AEB), the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board (NEAB) and City Guilds.
The launch was the first step in creating what the Government describes as a unitary body, that is an examining board that offers the three main academic and vocational qualifications for 16-19-year-olds and where there is a single chief executive accountable for consistent and high standards that will be monitored by our new regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).
The establishment of AQA does not mean that our three boards have merged nor, for City Guilds, should it be seen as the first step towards merger. I believe that the public interest is best served by City Guilds contributing to and supporting the alliance but nevertheless remaining independent of it.
An option would have been for us to withdraw completely from awarding GNVQs and to concentrate solely on providing occupationally specific qualifications. But this was never a serious possibility. City Guilds has a wealth of experience in designing assessments for 16-19- year-olds, going back 25 years when we first introduced foundation courses for schools and colleges.
General vocational programmes are not only a well-tested introduction to specific vocational courses, they also cater for those whose strengths do not necessarily lie in the traditional academic curriculum. I believe that the creation of AQA will assist in the process of attaining that parity of esteem for vocational and academic qualifications that has proved so elusive over the past decades.
In our business we distinguish between our customers - schools, colleges and private training organisations - and consumers (the candidates seeking the qualifications we award). AQA is committed to achieving the status and recognition that successful candidates deserve, but it is also committed to providing customers with high levels of service and consistent standards.
We shall be working towards operating single systems for registration, entries and results, so that our customers can genuinely benefit from one-stop shopping with the benefits that will bring in terms of less bureaucracy and fewer procedures to follow. We shall be investing significantly in a single new communications system that will maximise the benefits of thenew technologies.
Schools and colleges that wish to access City Guilds NVQs or its other vocational qualifications will be able to do so through AQA or they can continue to deal with us direct if they so wish. We have decided to keep our occupationally specific qualifications separate from the alliance, so that we can remain free to develop our awards and compete vigorously in what is quite a different market-place. We award more than 50 per cent of all NVQs, but there are still a very large number of other NVQ awarding bodies that are not within the scope of the unitary body arrangements. I believe that we should operate and compete with these bodies on the same basis.
We also have a wide range of long-standing partnerships with industry and employer organisations to award vocational qualifications. We shall continue to develop and enhance these partnerships to complement our work in the alliance.
As we move to the final years of the millennium there is much work to do to give our young people especially the right opportunities and skills to meet the challenges of the next century. We all have a responsibility to ensure that individual talents can be discovered and nurtured. Getting a flexible but respected qualifications system is an important part of the process. I believe that AQA has a vital role to play in achieving these lofty aims.