Awards, diplomas and certificates will replace the present qualifications jungle, Joe Clancy reports
A radically different unit-based system of vocational qualifications to replace the 4,000-plus already in existence became a step closer this week.
The last in a series of seven regional roadshows to promote the planned Framework for Achievement (FfA) was held in London and Manchester.
Now a three-tier system of adult qualifications based on awards, certificates and diplomas is being prepared for January.
A "unit data bank" is to be established, in which learners can store units of credit to use as building blocks of qualifications.
A target date of 2010 has been set for the new system to replace the existing National Qualifications Framework (NQF), which includes national vocational qualifications and Business and Technology Education Council (Btec) awards. The consultation on the new framework concludes at the end of this month, and a report is due to go to skills minister Ivan Lewis in April.
Further discussions on the detail are then scheduled until July. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Learning and Skills Council, who are preparing the framework, will conduct the talks.
It is then intended to publish the full specifications and procedures in September, with the FfA becoming "open for business" early next year.
It is also planned to align the framework with the Tomlinson proposals to provide a route into the adult framework from the 14 to 19 phase.
Janet Ryland, from the Learning and Skills Council's national office, speaking at the London roadshow, said: "It would be wrong to second-guess how our system might articulate with the Tomlinson proposals."
Vivien Cutler, executive director of London East LSC, said: "It is a radical approach that has been sought for some time.
"We are trying to raise awareness of what the FfA will be like so people are clear that it is not going to be a replica of the NQF."
The QCA is consulting employers, higher education institutions, awarding bodies, and sector skills councils for their views on how the new framework should work, she added.
"If everyone is signed up to this framework, it will enjoy greater esteem because everyone will have a shared understanding, and more people will be able to get credit for achievement."
Advantages of the FfA are that students' achievements will be recognised even if they do not complete a course.
"Many small businesses cannot afford to let their employees out to obtain whole qualifications, but are happy to let them take bite-sized pieces," she said, adding: "It is vital that we upskill our workforce."
Nick Juba, programme leader on the FfA project for the QCA, told delegates at the road show that the existing "qualifications jungle" is very difficult for employers and learners to navigate.
The current framework is "too complicated, too inflexible, too bureaucratic, and recognises a narrow range of achievements", he said.
"We are all too aware that industry spends pound;25 billion a year on training, a lot of which is not recognised," he added.
He said each unit must be capable of standing alone, as well as forming the heart of at least one qualification, but also opportunities to progress under rules of combination to a range of qualifications.
He suggested awards, certificates and diplomas as possible titles for the qualifications, with awards being the lowest and diplomas being equivalent to A-level. "We want a stable framework understood by everyone to include all qualifications for adults and all vocational qualifications outside higher education, under which all awarding bodies will have to recognise each other's units," he said.
The system would need "to articulate" with frameworks being developed in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Europe.
Mark Haysom, chief executive of the LSC, said: "Millions of people follow thousands of qualifications and courses across the country, so we really need a way to understand the relative value of what they achieve.
"This is very exciting, but also very challenging. To make it work, we need a framework, which is universally agreed. That means working closely with everyone involved in post-16 education and training to make the most of this opportunity."