Exam quango sets up division solely for job-based education, reports Steve Hook
An office dedicated to improving the education and training of workers is being set up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
The organisation will be headed up by Mary Curnock Cook, former chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeepers - a role in which she quickly gained a track-record of increasing the number of people training for qualifications.
Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, sees work-based training as a growth area and regards the division's creation as part of a wider drive to simplify the myriad qualifications presently in place.
His team is also looking at the structure of national vocational qualifications and opportunities to create more "unitised" exams. The aim is to identify transferable skills so they can count towards different qualifications to avoid duplication.
The new division, as well as having a presence at the quango's headquarters in Piccadilly, London, will also operate through local offices in an attempt to make the organisation "more visible" around the country.
There are expected to be fewer offices than the Learning and Skills Council's 47, and the areas covered will be closer in size to those of the regional development agencies.
Dr Boston said Ms Curnock Cook will bring valuable experience of industry to her new role.
He said: "During her tenure, the licensed retail industry underwent substantial reform and in the process the institute became a successful and well-respected organisation. It also took on ambitious projects such as changing the nation's perception of the industry and introducing social responsibility to members.
"Mary has been employed to affect a radical change in the recognition and provision of vocational qualifications."
Ms Curnock Cook was at the innkeepers institute from 1994 to 2001. Under her leadership, the organisation was responsible for 22 qualifications, ranging from licence application to career development, which were run by its awarding body.
She increased membership by 60 per cent and saw the take-up of qualifications among staff in the pub trade increase from 5,000 a year to 5,000 a month. She was awarded the OBE for services to training in hospitality and tourism in 2000.
The QCA is likely to take an increasingly hands-off approach to the vocational sector, reducing the lead-in time between new qualifications being proposed and accepted.
Dr Boston sees awarding bodies being able to accredit their own qualifications, without the need for the QCA to assess each new qualification as it is proposed.
Every government-recognised vocational qualification comes with the QCA stamp. In future, this would continue but awarding bodies' qualifications could be approved en bloc.
The light-touch approach echoes attempts to lighten the audit burden in further education colleges. Awarding bodies would be put through a "risk analysis", based partly on their track record. Once they have been approved, the current root-and-branch assessment of new qualifications by the QCA would be dropped as it takes up an "auditor's role" instead, Dr Boston explained.
He said: "We are looking at the idea of awarding bodies accrediting their own qualifications and we quality control that."
A key requirement of qualifications will continue to be that they provide building blocks on which further training can be based.
Dr Boston said: "A good-quality qualification is one that prepares you for further learning."