Aileen Ponton

17th August 2012 at 01:00
The chief executive of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework discusses why she trained - but never practised - as a classroom teacher, her vision for lifelong learning and the prospects for Scotland `s new National qualifications. Interview by Elizabeth Buie. Photography Tom Finnie

You trained as a teacher but never became one - why?

I didn't teach because there were no teaching opportunities then - I qualified to teach English. Instead, I took up a post as a training officer for young people on the Youth Training Scheme. I enjoyed it and stayed six years. By that time, I'd decided I didn't want to teach but wanted to stay in education.

How long has the SCQF been in existence?

The framework was set up in 2001, so it celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. That makes it the oldest framework in the world. This organisation has existed since 2007.

In layman's terms, what purpose does the SCQF fulfil?

It's a communication tool to allow employers and learners to understand better the complex map of qualifications and to see how they relate to one another and how you can move from one to another and how the levels relate to each other. It's also developed as a driver for change. The intention was to build a framework which supported articulation and progression so that there were no dead ends and to give learners credit for what they have achieved so they don't have to restart - that's a big issue for the post-16 agenda. I think it's a lifelong learning framework - the vision was that it would encompass all types of learning - so not just school or university but also college, trade union learning or employer provision.

If you could turn the clock back, would you give it a catchier name?

Although I've been here since 2007, in a previous life at the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) I also had responsibility for the SCQF. We commissioned a private research company to try and come up with a better name for it. Much to our surprise, the overwhelming response was not to change it - it does what it says on the tin. In 2003, Andrew Cubie (SCQF Partnership chairman) offered to give a bottle of Bollinger to the first person who could come up with a better name for it - he still has it in his fridge.

Would you like your organisation to have a higher profile with teachers?

We are probably not that bothered about the profile of the organisation - it's small and always intended to stay small. But we would definitely like the framework to have a higher profile with school teachers. Two things will help that - the move from National 4 and National 5 to National 1 to 5 means these levels will become part of the language of teachers and that will definitely help. And we are undertaking research this year to look at awareness and use of the framework by school teachers, headteachers and learners.

Your organisation is admired abroad - why?

The Scottish education system as a whole is admired abroad, so the glow of that casts itself around us. But it is the only framework in the world which has genuinely brought together qualifications in one structure, with one set of level descriptors. In European countries there is still a tendency to separate out vocational and academic education. The idea of bringing both together is quite a big step forward for a number of countries.

If the framework didn't exist, would a young learner notice anything different?

In one sense, no - why should it make any difference? I think it's the principles behind the framework, the intent and buy-in and engagement of trying to make these pathways effective that are important. We know from post-16 work done recently that the learner journey is crucially important. If we didn't have the SCQF, it's possible that that work would be much more difficult.

And would an employer notice?

One of the biggest compliments we get from employers is just the fact that many of them, particularly small employers, will look at the framework when they receive CVs or are making decisions about job levels or workforce development.

We're often told that employers are looking for skills beyond exam passes. Can the SCQF fill this gap in information?

It can, but not simply on its own. One of the things we are actively encouraging as part of Curriculum for Excellence is the extension of credit rating for other kinds of awards, as we have done with Duke of Edinburgh, Asdan, Outward Bound. It's not just about having a clutch of Highers but other experiences too, which carry a level or credit value that helps the young person to understand what they have got and the employer to understand its level.

Can you help put a human face to the framework, beyond the level descriptors?

What we have done over the last 14 months is create a set of video clips on our website and they try to give little vignettes about how different people or organisations have used the framework. There's a young person's experience of Outward Bound at Loch Eil, a senior manager at Microsoft who has credited a programme, an OU student who has worked his way through it while learning at work .

Looking at the framework, an Advanced Higher, first year of university, an SVQ3 and an HNC are all on Level 7 - are they really the same?

They are not the same. What we can say is that the demand of these qualifications is the same, so the level of learning and the scale and experience across knowledge and understanding are the same but the qualifications are very, very different.

Personal profile

Born: Girvan, 1958

Education: Sacred Heart Academy, Girvan; MA in arts and philosophy, University of Glasgow

Career: Trained as a teacher but never taught; 16 years with Scotvec and then Scottish Qualifications Authority; head of policy for Scotland, Sector Skills Development Agency; chief executive of Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework 2007-present.

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