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Training cash 'lottery' set to go;FE Focus

Ian Nash reports on the reform of Schedule 2a - the Government's list of approved vocational qualifications

Exam chiefs are poised to sweep away what colleges have condemned as "the annual winter lottery" over work-related training cash.

The list of Government-approved vocational training qualifications, which determines whether courses are publicly funded, has been attacked by colleges, exam boards and, increasingly, employers, since its creation in 1992.

Despite lengthy Government consultations recently on the criteria governing the approval of courses - ranging from technology and horticulture to beauty therapy and first aid - there was an outcry this year when a wide range of courses, already included in college prospectuses, were struck off the list in March.

But this month, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority takes control of the review of approved courses, handled previously by the Department for Education and Employment.

Nicholas Tate, QCA chief executive, said: "I have had letters of complaint from colleges to say they are having difficulties because there are no alternative qualifications."

While the list (known as Schedule 2a) is unlikely to be abolished, Dr Tate said he wants a fairer system of review - possibly once every three years instead of one - and short-term measures to adjust the list when mistakes are spotted.

Qualifications advisory groups will be set up to improve consultations. The groups will draw on the expertise of the national training organisation for each industry, college, professional association and exam group.

A survey by the Association of Colleges suggested that pound;14m had been cut from budgets through an average loss of 50 courses per college. Hardest hit were beauty therapy, first aid and sports coaching. Language and music tuition was also hit, cutting off retraining for work routes, particularly for people with special needs, according to the study.

Students accepted for courses this autumn have been told places are no longer available. One large college in the North-west has cut 2,000 places already pledged and will lose pound;500,000.

Dr Tate defended Schedule 2a in principle, saying it had been effective in stopping many of the abuses in the education and training market and forcing exam bodies to think hard about the value and effectiveness of the system. It was also effective in cutting back the 16,000 qualifications.

Also, many of the qualifications dropped this year were not up to scratch, he said. "Some qualifications have been squeezed because they did not meet the pretty minimal criteria on matters such as quality standards," he said.

Longer term, Dr Tate wants a "needs-driven" qualifications framework so that the future of college courses is not left to the whims of the exams market-place.

"Having identified needs, it may be that none are being met adequately by the qualifications available. We are looking at a more comprehensive way of assessing qualifications than is currently available," he said.

The AOC welcomed Dr Tate's moves towards a fairer assessment system.

Judith Norrington, AOC curriculum director, said: "Colleges do need to build it into longer-term planning. We should not be put in a position where courses are withdrawn after prospectuses are published.

"We are not in the business of retaining all qualifications regardless, there is a need for rationalisation. But the criteria which were recently redrafted were not clear, so colleges could not understand why so many qualifications were withdrawn."

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