A coherent and simplified system of post-16 qualifications is still proving elusive in Scotland, the head of its new examination body has admitted.
Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, said people were not yet fully aware of the connections between qualifications. But he said: "We are moving slowly towards greater coherence in Scotland with a post-16 credit accumulation framework."
The SQA has taken over from the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council, effectively mirroring the merger between the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications in England and Wales.
The Scottish body, which acts as an awarding as well as a validating body, will oversee the wholesale reform of the Highers, the Scottish equivalent of the A-level, to create a unified system of post-16 vocational and academic qualifications.
Labour has indicated that the planned changeover next autumn will be delayed by a year if it wins power, but speaking at The TESS conference, Mr Tuck had an upbeat message, arguing that the Scottish post-16 structure had on paper achieved the coherence for which England was striving.
The Scottish reforms propose five levels of post-16 qualification - three at sub-Higher to link with Standard grade (the equivalent of GCSEs), Higher and Advanced Higher. If applied in England and Wales the scheme would replace GNVQs, BTEC and RSA awards, as well as the gold standard of A-levels.
The development of the Scottish system has benefited from a lower number of vocational qualifications outside the NVQSVQ and GNVQ framework, as well as a willingness to extend reforms to academic qualifications, a move ruled firmly out of the debate south of the border.
But the Scottish effort to establish "parity of esteem" between vocational and academic courses was dismissed by Professor Alan Smithers as "a false goal", a view which Mr Tuck disputed. Professor Smithers argued: "What gives value to a qualification is where it takes you and some vocational qualifications are held in the highest esteem."
But Mr Tuck said that extending internal and external tests to all non-advanced post-16 courses in schools and colleges would help to remove the existing distinctions.
Mr Tuck's view that there must be "broad equivalence across a level so that a Higher in classics is of the same standard as one in mechatronics" was also challenged by Professor Smithers who suggested that it was not necessary to admit all awards to a national framework.
But his view that "some awards should be allowed to find their own level" came under fire from Mr Tuck, who said that approach had been tried in Scotland through the development of post-16 modules. "Employers, universities and others found this difficult to grasp and wanted a national structure put in place, " Mr Tuck said.
The use of qualifications to establish a national picture of attainment made it important to aim for both parity of esteem and broad equivalences between courses at the same level.
Professor Smithers suggested that national education and training targets could easily be met simply by devising new courses. Mr Tuck retorted: "One of the jobs of the SQA is to ensure that targets are not achieved by dubious means and the moving of goalposts."