Sir Ron Dearing's review runs to 700 pages, including five research reports. On these and the following two pages The TES reprints edited highlights of a seminal set of recommendations for the future of 16-19 education
The present range of qualifications, the lack of a shared vocabulary to describe them, and the pace of their recent development, means that those not closely involved with education and training are unable to grasp what is going on.
The titles in our three main qualifications pathways for 16 to 19-year-olds are distinctly unmemorable: general certificate of secondary education (GCSE), general national vocational qualifications (GNVQs) and national vocational qualifications (NVQs). Only A-levels are common currency.
For those whose achievements are below GCSE level, there is no national provision for recognition.
Insiders, whether as providers or learners, wish for greater coherence in the framework of qualifications. Those outside want a framework they can understand.
There is interest in a structure which enables combining of elements from more than one pathway. There is a widely shared concern to lift the standing of the applied and vocational pathways, so that choices can more fully reflect young people's aptitudes.
The historic pre-eminence of A-levels has led to expansion beyond their original purposes. More expansion would most probably serve to increase the already too high proportion of students who find the A-level approach disappointing.
A first step towards coherence is to bring the present academic, applied and vocational pathways into a common framework covering all achievements. Such a framework needs to recognise explicitly the equivalence in national terms of the value of achievement, whether through the A-level and GCSE, or through GNVQ or NVQ.
The recommendations that follow show how the main qualifications could be brought into a national framework, and illustrate the awards that would be made.
A national framework for qualifications should be introduced to cover achievement in the three main pathways at four levels: advanced; intermediate; foundation; entry. They should be known as National Levels, and the term national should be used in front of all the main elements in the proposed framework. These include: national awards; national records of achievement; national traineeships; national certificates; national advanced diplomas; national vocational qualifications
All certificates should show the relevant national level prominently as the main heading. They should list on the reverse the main comparable, nationally-recognised achievements at the relevant level. For certificates at the advanced level, provision should be made for the numerical score based on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) proposed new tariff.
The grouping of present awards into four common national levels would be as shown in the table (above right). The proposed national framework for awards makes plain that academic, applied and vocational qualifications at the same levels are of equal value.
The GCSE, A-level, GNVQ and NVQ qualifications have been developed to meet distinctive needs. However, the positioning of each needs continuing oversight by the regulatory bodies.
A joint committee of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, with the involvement of Wales and Northern Ireland should enter into discussion with the awarding bodies and recommend broad principles for allocating subject areas to pathways.
Below A-level, it should be accepted that the GCSE develops general education as well as the practical application of skills. But in subject areas outside the national curriculum studies in the practical applications of knowledge and understanding, relevant to broad areas of employment, should normally be regarded as the province of the GNVQ, unless there are good reasons to the contrary.
The joint committee should consider all proposals for new awards and programmes Their appropriateness for a particular pathway should be reviewed.
The joint committee might also consider whether in the longer term there is a case for a national subject framework for qualifications based on coherent groupings of broad subject areas.
Though the pathways should be distinct, A-levels and GNVQs will often be taught in the same institutions, and some students may decide that they have chosen the wrong pathway. In some areas an A-level and a GNVQ include some common content. The Gatsby Foundation, in association with the review, has undertaken a project to identify the extent of this commonality. This could enable a common core to be established, allowing students to change pathways after, say, the first term.
To support such developments, we need greater coherence in the arrangements for quality assurance for qualifications within the national framework. The proposed joint committee of the NCVQ and SCAA should develop a common timetable and common arrangements for quality assurance for all qualifications in the national framework.
In addition to common arrangements for quality assurance, we need a shared vocabulary. The complex and specialist language of the qualifications framework and The lack of a common vocabulary of terms across awarding and regulatory bodies is a major barrier to public understanding.
Plain words and a common vocabulary should be adopted by the regulatory and awarding bodies for all qualifications.
The arrangements for making awards and regulating them are currently divided by a binary line, with GCSEA-levels on one side, and GNVQs and NVQs on the other. While some awarding bodies straddle this line, most do not.
A momentum for change has now been created. This gives an opportunity to address the century-old division between education and training by introducing arrangements that span the divide.
The Government departments should encourage awarding bodies to come together to create new joint arrangements for awarding the GCSE, A-level and GNVQ. They should, at the same time, take action to rationalise: * The number of bodies involved in the awarding of qualifications; * The number of NVQ-awarding bodies. Legislation should be introduced to bring together the work of the NCVQ and SCAA. To that end, the Government should consult on the following alternatives: * Bringing together all the work of the NCVQ and SCAA into one single statutory body, or * Regrouping the qualifications and public examinations functions of the NCVQ and SCAA into a new National Qualifications Authority for England with a separate authority responsible for the school curriculum from 4-19, for statutory assessment up to the age of 14.
National awards framework, giving equal status to academic, applied and vocational qualifications.
Develop common course elements to allow A-level and GNVQ students to change course
Legislation to bring together the work of the NCVQ and SCAA