TWO YEARS ago Christina Townsend, then chief executive of the Business and Technology Education Council, together with Tony Smith, her counterpart at the University of London Examinations and Assessment Council, met Sir Ron Dearing and convinced him of the benefits of unitary awarding bodies. By the time Sir Ron's report into 16-18 qualifications appeared in March 1996, BTEC and ULEAC had announced they were to merge and, following Mr Smith's retirement, Dr Townsend was the obvious choice as Edexcel's first chief executive.
The Dearing report proposed a cut in the number of exam boards and vocational awarding bodies - a theme later taken up by Conservative and, more recently, Labour ministers. But Edxecel has the satisfaction of knowing it got there first and, unlike other awarding bodies, required no government persuasion to gain unitary status.
The creation of Edexcel was aided by the fact that BTEC and ULEAC had offices near to each other and the University of London. As the market leader in providing GNVQs, BTEC was established in schools and colleges. It could, therefore, be seen as a natural partner to ULEAC - or London Examinations as it was better known - which was a leading provider of academicqualifications.
Gordon Tempest-Hay, Edexcel's head of corporate affairs, admits people took time to become used to the merger. "Inevitably if you put two organisations together with two totally different cultures together - one from the world of work and the other geared to standards in A-levels - it takes a while to overcome the cultural shift," he said.
Before the merger, BTEC was already expanding its regional structure. Edexcel now employs about 600 people - 50 more than the old organisations together - and has 13 regional offices around the United Kingdom.
Although Edexcel does not shy away from using the names BTEC and London Examinations for marketing purposes, the number of students who talk about taking "a BTEC" is declining as the popularity of GNVQs and NVQs increases.
While Edexcel's long-term aim remains an overarching baccalaureate, Dr Townsend has warned ministers they must get the post-16 structure right first. As part of its attempt to bridge the gap between academic and vocational studies, Edexcel offers key skills awards for delivery with A-levels and NVQ units in language proficiency, which teachers can also use alongside A-levelsyllabuses.
Gwen Gentry, programme manager for languages at Croydon College, said the NVQ units were a useful assessment and teaching tool which helped A-level students use languages in the workplace. "The move is more and more towards mix and match," she said. "The big advantage of the merger is that people from both sides can come together and look at their programmes. There is more awareness of the need for continuity."