A multi-million pound qualifications framework designed to promote bite-sized learning is failing to give students "meaningful opportunities" to gain credits and transfer between courses, according to a damning report published today.
While recognising the potential benefits of the qualifications and credit framework (QCF), Ofqual concluded there is no "significant demand" for the flexible transfer of credits and has raised doubts about the benefits of the scheme.
The strict regulation of the QCF has stifled innovation, the exams regulator warned, and it raised concerns about awarding bodies being compelled to use units that they "did not consider to be fully fit for purpose".
"Many awarding organisations reported that they had incurred substantial costs as a result of the introduction of the QCF," its report said. "They did not know whether their investment in designing their qualifications in line with the QCF would prove to be worthwhile."
Mark Dawe, chief executive of exam board OCR, welcomed Ofqual's report and called for "marked improvements".
"The design specification was faulty from the outset and we are glad that Ofqual has now exposed its faults," he said.
Mr Dawe said OCR shared Ofqual's concerns in a number of key areas, including an "unreasonable" timetable for implementation; the "wasteful" level of administration involved in converting qualifications to the new system; the role of sector skills councils in approving qualifications adding "little value"; and confusion between exam boards offering similar courses.
When the Labour government unveiled the QCF in 2008, it argued that the new structure would bring together all vocational qualifications for the first time, recognising smaller units of learning and enabling students to build up qualifications in stages. Credits are awarded for completion of a unit, which can then be combined to complete a full qualification.
In October, the Association of Accounting Technicians told FE Focus that it had paid pound;900,000 to transfer its qualifications to the QCF, with little benefit.
The cost for larger exam boards is believed to run into millions of pounds.
Ofqual also found that even some "key stakeholders" were "largely unaware of the QCF".
A Skills Funding Agency spokesman said: "The work to build the QCF has been critical in moving us forward. Ofqual's evaluation highlights where we need to continue to focus energies to deliver a qualifications system that is flexible, responsive and innovative."