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The role of regulation in driving up the quality of vocational qualifications

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We welcome today’s (5th March 2014) vocational qualifications reform plan from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills setting out the Government’s priorities for the vocational qualifications system for England. It acknowledges the reliance Government and others place on the assurance provided by us about regulated qualifications. It sets out the wider policy context within which we regulate.

As the regulator of vocational qualifications in England and Northern Ireland we are concerned that, while many vocational qualifications are highly valued, some are not good enough. We are mindful of the recommendations made in the review of adult vocational qualifications led by Nigel Whitehead of BAE Systems in 2013 and the issues raised in earlier reports from Doug Richard on apprenticeships and Professor Alison Wolf on vocational education for students at 14-19. We are having separate discussions about policy ambitions in Northern Ireland.

Most vocational qualifications are currently designed to meet the detailed rules of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), set out in 2008 before we existed. We have reviewed the way these QCF rules have worked in practice and found that some of them do not assure the creation and delivery of good quality qualifications – and in some ways they work against it.

So we are strengthening the way we regulate to help improve the quality of qualifications. We will change the rules so that they promote good qualifications that we can all trust and value, and make it much harder for awarding organisations to get away with poor quality: we will consult on these changes in the spring. Where awarding organisations already offer good, valued qualifications, we will not force them to change for the sake of it.

We also intend to make sure that all of the organisations we regulate take responsibility and properly focus on the quality of the qualifications; where they fail to do so we will take firm action. We will meet each of the awarding organisations to set out the detail of our plans and provide more guidance to enable them, where necessary, to improve the qualifications they offer.
We expect the organisations we regulate to consider carefully whether all the qualifications they offer are truly valid and reliable. Where they do not have this confidence they should consider whether the qualification should continue to be offered or how the shortcomings can be addressed to improve the quality.

It will take a little time for those we regulate to review and to improve, as necessary, the qualifications they offer, but the result should be a set of qualifications that employers, students and others can trust.

In the meantime, we will continue to keep a close watch on those we regulate and the qualifications they offer. Where we find problems we will take action.

When it is available, we will also publish better information to enable users of qualifications to make informed choices.
Together with the action being taken by BIS, we are confident that these measures will help shape a qualifications system that is more responsive, with qualifications that are of higher quality and in which employers and others can value.

The vocational qualification reform plan can be downloaded from the BIS website.