New qualifications chief promises more flexibility

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Thousands of home-grown college qualifications will fit a new national exam framework without the need for significant changes under reforms to be considered by the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority.

Nicholas Tate, appointed by ministers as chief executive designate of the planned body this week, gave his assurance that he would seek more flexibility to bring many of the 16,000 qualifications into the fold.

While Dr Tate was widely predicted to head the planned quango to be formed from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, the timing is surprising since the more political post of chair - usually the first appointment on a new quango - has still to be chosen. It also suggests that he will have little interference in the running of the QNCA.

In his first press interview since his appointment, he told The TES: "I have aspirations towards a more general, inclusive and flexible qualifications framework."

The qualifications which are likely to get off most lightly are the knowledge-based and more academic ones. The Education Bill making its troubled passage through Parliament gives Dr Tate sweeping powers over all publicly-funded qualifications.

But a programme of reforms to national vocational qualifications has already been set in train by education and employment ministers with a view to a national relaunch next autumn. Dr Tate made it clear he had no scope or desire to interfere.

In doing so, he moved to reassure training and enterprise councils and the Confederation for British Industry that his appointment did not indicate a shift or bias towards more academic qualifications as many feared.

His longer-term aim is to shift towards a single national framework of qualifications. But this is unlikely to happen until the later stages of his initial five-year period of office.

Two priority areas for the new QNCA were lifelong learning and the need for a better 14-19 framework to rescue the 100,000 disaffected and demotivated youths who slip through the net. Further education colleges would play a central advisory role, he promised.

"They will be consulted and will have a leading role advising the QNCA. They are the only institutions currently responsible for qualifications right across the national framework. The majority of A-levels are studied there, as are most GNVQs and large numbers of NVQs."

Dr Tate takes over a wide tranche of joint SCAA\NCVQ committees which he says will continue their work as usual. These have responsibility for the new National Traineeships and Modern Apprenticeships, the Government's Relaunch programme to assist adults who have failed courses, and the new "entry" qualification for those below NVQ level 1, currently the bottom rung of the progression ladder.

College, CBI and TEC leaders welcomed his stated commitment but remained sceptical. Judith Norrington, curriculum director for the Association of Colleges said: "I hope he fully takes on board the wide diversity and strength that FE brings to the whole framework of the curriculum and makes sure the structure of the organisation reflects that. We deserve more than an occasional consultation and advisory role."

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