SFA concedes errors in implementation of bite-sized learning

8th July 2011 at 01:00
Climb-down follows damning Ofsted report on QCF scheme

Mistakes were made by implementing the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in a "top-down, clunky way", the FE funding body has admitted.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has conceded that it needs to "tweak and refine" the framework - introduced to allow flexible learning in bite- sized chunks - following widespread criticism by leading figures in the sector.

Bringing together all vocational qualifications for the first time, the QCF was designed to recognise smaller steps of learning and enable students to build up qualifications bit by bit, allowing them to resume their learning at a later date, or with a different provider, without having to repeat their studies.

In an exclusive interview with FE Focus, Janet Ryland, head of the QCF and learner offer at the SFA, insisted that much progress had been made since it was introduced in 2009.

She also says the agency is keen to work with providers and exam boards to make the framework more user-friendly.

The interview comes a month after a damning Ofqual report concluded that the QCF was failing to give students "meaningful opportunities" to gain credits and transfer between courses, and argued that there was no "significant demand" for the flexible transfer of credits.

The exams regulator also raised concerns about the cost to exam boards, and organisations being forced to use shared units which they "did not consider to be fully fit for purpose".

Mark Dawe, chief executive of exam board OCR, described the QCF's design specification as "faulty from the outset" and said this had been exacerbated by the "unreasonable" timetable for implementing the framework.

Despite the QCF having undergone two years of testing and trialling, Ms Ryland told FE Focus this week that "we were not going to have an all- singing, all-dancing framework overnight".

"If we were implementing it again, we would probably do it more simply; we wouldn't do it the way we did, in a top-down clunky way.

"We would do it in a much more simple way and involve providers at an earlier stage," she added.

There are now 8,000 qualifications on the QCF, Ms Ryland said, and in August the SFA will be funding learners on active benefits, such as jobseekers' allowance or employment support allowance, to take individual units for the first time.

"We want to be funding units, so adults have more flexibility if they do not have a straightforward learning history," she said.

Ms Ryland said there was no "significant evidence" that the quality of qualifications had deteriorated due to the QCF, and also hit back at Ofqual's criticism that there was little demand for bite-sized learning.

She said that it had always been anticipated that demand would only begin to grow when more learners became aware of it.

"We did feel we wouldn't instantly get lots of adults demanding credit accumulation and transfer overnight. We need to make sure we remove some of the barriers we have got. Now we can look at how it can work better and what we need to tweak.

"Credit transfer will take longer. It's going to be more challenging in terms of the logistics.

"The big fear for us is that providers don't begin to explore the flexibility (allowed by the QCF) to find out the benefits of it," she said.

The SFA is also looking to ease exam boards' fears about allowing their competitors to access their results data.

"Awarding bodies have some reservations about uploading their data onto the personal learning record," Ms Ryland said.

"Now is a good time to take stock and say, `Let's look at some of the high-end principles we all agree on'."


Bits and theses

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was introduced in 2009 as a replacement for the National Qualifications Framework.

When the plans were announced in 2008, the Labour government said the QCF would help learners to acquire the skills needed by industry, as well as establish how all regulated vocational qualifications should be structured, titled and quality assured.

The QCF divides qualifications into units, which means learners can theoretically build up their qualifications bit by bit, even if they choose to take a gap in their learning. The framework was also intended to make it easier for learners who switch providers - and even exam boards - to continue their study, without having to repeat their learning.

The framework spans entry-level courses up to level 8 - the equivalent of a PhD. Credits are awarded for completion of units, which can then be combined to complete a qualification.

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