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An introduction to our new approach to regulating vocational qualifications

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Vocational and technical qualifications

I'm Jeremy Benson, Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications (VQs) at Ofqual, the qualifications regulator for Northern Ireland and England. I’ll be blogging about our new approach to regulating VQs as it develops, and about our work and the issues we're thinking about generally.

In this first blog I want to reflect on the role of qualifications in the wider vocational education and training (VET) system.

At their best, vocational qualifications open doors for employment and demonstrate that people have the skills that employers seek, like for hairdressing or accountancy. But qualifications are only a small part of a much bigger picture - it’s the skills and knowledge that really matter and prepare people to start a job, and then develop further in their careers. Good teaching and learning focuses on developing the skills, knowledge and wider experience that employers look for.

But often qualifications are used for things they weren’t designed for, like judging a school or determining a college’s funding. This can distort teaching and can lead to so-called ‘teaching to the test’, where passing the qualification is the biggest priority – not the development of the skills and knowledge the qualification is trying to recognise.

It can also mean that easily-measured skills, such as the ability to cut hair or audit a balance sheet, are prioritised at the expense of those that aren’t measured so easily, such as teamwork, showing initiative or self-discipline.

If the teaching becomes too distorted, the qualification will not provide students with a good stepping stone into employment, equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to do the job. Like anything (or anyone!), a qualification that is asked to do too many things at once is likely to do none of them particularly well.

This means that Ofqual is in an unusual position. Officially our role is to regulate just one part of the VET system – the qualifications that underpin most training and apprenticeships. But in practice the qualifications we regulate play a big part in defining what skills are taught. So our influence can go well beyond just the regulation of qualifications. We recognise that we have a responsibility to use that influence carefully and wisely, to support good education and training outcomes.

So we are considering how this affects the way we regulate. We are talking to employers in different sectors and of different sizes, as well as colleges, training providers, other public bodies and Government, to understand what they think we should do to strengthen the way qualifications are taught. We have been discussing what information each organisation needs and how they should be able to feed in their experiences of qualifications. We want qualifications to become a well-understood and responsive part of the wider VET system, not one that distorts it.

In my next blog I'll talk about how we’re regulating to make sure that qualifications are of high quality. In the meantime, look out for our recent report on improving functional skills – a good example of how we’re regulating in practice.

Jeremy Benson
Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications

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  1. Comment by Jo Priddey posted on

    In theory this sounds good but there have been so many funding cuts in F.E. that it is very difficult to put into practice even when we have the best intentions. Particularly those of us that worked in industry and fully understand how we need to help our learners develop in order to be employable.

    • Replies to Jo Priddey>

      Comment by Jeremy Benson posted on

      Of course we know there are some significant funding challenges facing the FE sector at the moment, and these will continue. Our job is to make sure that whoever takes the vocational qualifications we regulate, and however they are funded, the qualifications provide a credible and useful record of the skills that the student has demonstrated, which relate to what employers need.

  2. Comment by Neil Harvey posted on

    How can an ordinary degree be rendered equivalent to a honours degree while keeping a straight face? RQF level 6 has the appearance of intellectual sloppiness in this respect. It undermines the honours system.

    Student Finance England are now using this fact as an excuse not to fund students who want to top-up from Ordinary to Honours degrees, even when the soon to be ex pre-registered student has compelling personal reasons such as a serious illness. If previous HEI's had not awarded an ordinary degree, the student would be able to get funding today.

    This is dropping the ball.