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Transition to new framework is cause for concern

The Association of Colleges (AoC) and its members are fully behind the positive changes that the move over to the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) heralds. QCF will provide colleges with the innovative and flexible delivery model that individuals, employers and colleges have been asking for. However, we have significant concerns over the management of transition arrangements from the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

The QCF's credit-based funding methodology and the supporting service layer are both key to its flexibility, but these will not be up and running until August 2012, with the full benefits not anticipated until 2015. In the meantime, challenging timelines have been put in place to shift qualifications over to QCF by August 2010. In the two years between 2010 and 2012, the existing NQF funding and service methodology will remain, as far as possible, in place, but these will not fully support the flexibilities QCF promises to deliver.

During this period QCF will, therefore, be unlikely to yield any of the significant benefits it is intended to deliver and may feel like NQF in smaller chunks. This poses the obvious question - why the rush to get replacement qualifications on to the QCF for the next academic year?

AoC is in communication with the Government and its funding agencies regarding delays in developing qualifications for the QCF. A large number of sector representative bodies and awarding organisations are still working on the conversion process. Yet it appears that colleges are expected to alter their delivery to these new qualifications "sight unseen", or within unrealistic time frames given the significant alterations in some programme content, delivery time and funding levels.

In some instances, the QCF replacement qualification bears little resemblance to its NQF counterpart. These issues have been acknowledged by the Skills Funding Agency and raised with the Young People's Learning Agency. However, we have yet to be given any firm assurances that will give colleges the confidence to move forward with the provision that potential students want for fear of having funding withdrawn. AoC estimates that up to half a million 16- to 18-year-olds will have no full- time study programme this September if funding for NQF qualifications is to be withdrawn from this point before QCF replacements are available.

Where QCF replacement qualifications are available, we are seeing a number of issues for colleges which are getting in the way of effective delivery. The reduction in delivery hours has a knock-on effect on funding (lower hours equals lower funding) and in some instances this could be enough to force a college to consider whether a programme is viable.

Many young people, who would otherwise become Neet (not in education, employment or training), follow full-time, vocational courses at college. A lot of the qualifications that sector bodies deem inappropriate as access points to jobs appeal to these students. AoC is calling for some balance between the needs of employers and the needs of the communities that colleges serve.

Teresa Frith, Senior skills policy manager, Association of Colleges.

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