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Learning: Qualifications - Credit where it's due

By the end of 2010, all qualifications must be registered on the Qualifications and Credit Framework. Sarah Pallett explains how this will affect companies' training programmes.

Demand for training might be at an all-time high, but the Government has finally recognised the multiplicity of training courses was confusing employers. The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is a new framework for recognising and accrediting qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is replacing the current National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The new body is at the heart of a major reform of the vocational qualifications system, designed to make the whole system simpler to understand and more inclusive. The idea is to make the qualifications offered more relevant to employers' needs and more flexible and accessible for learners.

QCF confronts the current problem that it is difficult for employers to understand the level of qualification held by learners and the factors that differentiate them from other qualifications.

Because QCF is credits-based (every qualification has a credit value, with one credit representing 10 learning hours), and is graded according to difficulty (from entry level to level 8), simply by looking at the title of a qualification it will be possible to judge how difficult it was and how long it took the average learner to complete it.

There are three kinds of QCF qualifications: awards - which number 1 to 12 credits; certificates - which have 13 to 36 credits; and diplomas - equivalent to 37 credits or more. So, awards will be described thus: awarding body (for example, EDI); level of qualification; size of qualification and details indicating the content - for example, EDI level 2 award in business skills.

Unlike the NQF, individual units can be independently assessed rather than as part of a whole qualification. It means staff can undertake bite-size training as needed. This allows for a more personalised approach, enabling employers and training providers to design programmes to suit the individual. For the learner it should offer more choice and flexibility when choosing a qualification. It also allows them to combine units in a way that suits their individual goals. Learners will be able to transfer credits between qualifications, even if they are assessed by a different awarding body. They will therefore avoid having to retake any units if they start a new qualification. Uniquely, the QCF gives employers the opportunity to 'map' their training programmes against individual accredited units on the QCF, so employees can gain a nationally accredited unit as a by-product of completing in-house training.

Employers can also monitor learners' progress using the Managing Information Across Partners (MIAP) service, led by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL). MIAP issues a unique learner number to the learner and the training provider through the Learner Registration Service. Once this has been issued, a record of achievement will start to form. Trials for the Learner Achievement Record have recently taken place, and once established, will help training providers, employers and learners keep a record of units, credits and qualifications gained.

Funding for qualifications is via LSC and DEL. Qualifications eligible for funding will be determined in Sector Qualification Strategies (SQS) action plans, developed by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) during the rest of this year. By July 2010 no new enrolments on NQF will be eligible for funding, with only continuing learners on the NQF funded to complete their qualification. By August 2010, the funding will be fully focused on QCF. Underpinning all of this though is the National Employer Service, which employers can call to discuss eligibility for funding. However, employers must partner with a training provider first as funds are provided by the LSC.

No matter how big or small the employer, effective training can make a real difference and the QCF aims to make this a reality. It promises to bring some exciting changes for all involved in training and development. And with a more personalised approach for the individuals and employers, it aims to make learning available to everyone.

- Sarah Pallett is qualifications manager at EDI, the awarding body specialising in vocational and professional qualifications in the UK and abroad.