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Plea for common currency qualifications post-14

All post-14 qualifications should be given a credit rating which allows students to compare their achievements against the value of other awards, says the largest research and development group in further education.

A credit-based qualification system, building on the national framework laid down in the Dearing report, would be a major step towards lifelong learning, according to the Further Education Development Agency.

Numerous research projects for more than a decade have edged the further education system closer to a universal system of credit accumulation and transfer which would provide the elusive "ecu" - a common currency for achievement regardless of the course of study pursued.

Rows over parity of esteem between A-levels and vocational studies have hampered efforts. But the FEDA study puts the emphasis on the length of time taken to achieve a unit. It also targets students from 14 not 16.

An eight-page colour pamphlet - designed to appeal to students and parents, as well as educationists - is an attempt to generate new interest in a credit system at a time when colleges and other training providers are gearing themselves up to implement reforms Sir Ron proposed, that all certificates awarded to students should state the equivalent national level of qualifications such as GCSEs, A-levels and GNVQs.

FEDA wants to go further, however, by breaking all qualifications down into units with specified learning outcomes. Each unit would be given a credit value based on the notional time a student could expect to spend gaining it.

A national credit transcript, which might appear in the student's record of achievement, would state how many credits the students gained at school or college as well as through work-based training.

Tony Tait, FEDA's lead officer on the credit framework, said education must develop a common language and currency to explain the comparative value of qualifications.

"Dearing is a step in the right direction," he said. "But it is hard to see how aspects of the Dearing report, including a national diploma and modern apprenticeships, can be fully implemented without some means of weighing different kinds of achievement."

Once all qualifications are broken down into units with credit values, students could combine different course programmes to build up new awards through a system of credit accumulation and transfer.

Earlier reports on credits, published by FEDA's predecessor, the Further Education Unit, were well received by colleges. Yet progress towards a national credit-based qualifications system has been slow.

In Wales 90 per cent of college funding is based on the credit value of teaching programmes. Colleges claim funding equivalent to nine learning units per year for each A-level student and three learning units for students taking a single GNVQ unit.

Richard Hart, principal funding officer at the Further Education Funding Council for Wales, said the system gave colleges the flexibility to offer personalised programmes to students wishing to "pick and mix" courses.

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