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Time for a change

Suddenly we are moving rapidly along the road to reform of vocational qualifications. The Tomlinson review of A-levels was launched with a fanfare, but few noticed that a joint working group was quietly tackling a more urgent problem.

The Learning and Skills Council, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Sector Skills Development Agency are close to pronouncing on two key issues: how to give those who choose the non-academic road a fair deal; and how to take employers' views into account.

Decades of dithering and side-stepping such questions have damaged careers and harmed efforts to do a proper audit of the nation's skills and assess future need. While arcane, almost theological, arguments raged around the relative merits of competency vs knowledge tests, the skills base of Britain crumbled as we slipped relentlessly down international league tables of competitiveness.

That is set to change. A review of qualifications and assessment goes from the big three agencies to ministers this month. In June, a White Paper spelling-out reform and putting employers in the driving seat will be published. John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, is passionate about reform. Ivan Lewis, the lifelong learning minister in charge of the reforms, is equally committed to rapid action (see pages 4-5). Indeed, the question of vocational assessment and accreditation reform runs as a leitmotif through this special report.

It is about more than skills in the workplace. Root-and-branch reform will have an influence all the way back to the work-related options pupils pick at 14. If we can get work-related qualifications right and improve the skills and job prospects of adults, then more young people will be inspired to stay on in education and training.

As exemplars in this report show, they will discover some very rewarding careers along the vocational road.

Ian Nash. Further Education editor, tes

* The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of The TES and not of the Learning and Skills Council

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