https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2015/08/06/regulating-for-valid-vocational-qualifications/

Regulating for valid vocational qualifications

It is some time since I last blogged; a lot has happened since then and I want to update you on some of the work we've been doing.

One thing we’ve done is to outline more clearly our approach to regulation by publishing our regulatory strategy statement to explain how we regulate and why. It describes our focus on validity, which is the degree to which a qualification measures what needs to be measured.

One challenge here is being sure of what needs to be measured. Awarding organisations are responsible for the validity of the qualifications they design, and they need to establish support for their qualifications. With vocational qualifications, this could mean engaging with employers or industry representative groups to look at the skills and knowledge that need developing in their sectors.

It’s not just at the point of design that employers have a role to play. To know that a qualification is measuring what needs to be measured, awarding organisations should look across the lifecycle of their qualification. They need to be sure, for example, that their assessments are testing the right skills and knowledge sufficiently well, and that they act on the feedback they receive from those who rely on qualifications, such as employers.

Here we use the term ‘employers’ to mean a wide range of organisations from across all industries: from SMEs to multi-national companies, as well as sector representatives, such as professional bodies or the new Industrial Partnerships. Any or all of these can be involved in defining what vocational qualifications should be trying to do and reviewing whether they are succeeding.

This means that qualifications regulation needs to be flexible enough to encompass qualifications across different sectors, at different levels and with different purposes. And it’s because of this that awarding organisations need to have the freedom to design the assessments that work best for their particular qualifications.

That is why we announced at the end of last year that we would be withdrawing the rules that awarding organisations have to follow to design qualifications that sit on the Qualifications and Credit Framework, or QCF.

When the QCF was introduced by our predecessor body back in 2008, it introduced a building-block approach to learning in order to support progression and enhance mobility, both within careers and across industries. The prescriptive design rules that came with the framework were seen as a way of assuring consistency, and awarding organisations had to redesign their qualifications to meet the new rules.

When we reviewed the QCF last year, we found that the rules placed too much focus on structure, and not enough on validity, and that they were not flexible enough to meet the variety of needs covered by vocational qualifications. So we consulted on removing the QCF rules and found much support for our proposals.

We’re not going to replace the QCF rules with another, different set of specific rules, because prescriptive design rules are not the best way of securing validity. Awarding organisations will still have to comply with our General Conditions of Recognition, and we’ll be updating these shortly with a few additional Conditions to reflect the withdrawal of the QCF rules. We’ve written today to awarding organisations to confirm the detail of how those rules will be withdrawn.

Even though the QCF rules are going, qualifications designed to meet the QCF rules don’t necessarily have to change. What matters is whether the qualifications we regulate can be shown to be sufficiently valid. We know that many are, and they will continue to be available. Awarding organisations should be able to explain the systems and approaches they’ve chosen to put in place to look at validity. We think it’s better to be looking at that, rather than focusing on whether a qualification meets specific design requirements.

It’s unlikely you’ll see much difference in most qualifications as a result of these changes, at least in the short term. We are, though, introducing some changes to how we expect the size and level of demand of qualifications to be described, which we are calling the Regulated Qualifications Framework. The framework is part of our work to help people better understand the qualifications we regulate. We will be launching it next month, and I’ll write some more about it then.

Jeremy Benson
Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications, Ofqual

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