What is happening in the ‘work base learning sector’

As with the school’s sector there is enormous political will to deliver improvements in the development of skills training and education, The Leitch review aimed at developing skills training to improve the competitive edge of the British economy has become something of a mantra.


Vocational and especially skills based education has for many years suffered from low status compared with academic routes for learning. The government wants the meeting of employer’s skills and education needs by HE institutions to have equal status with research and academic activities.


Ironically the status of skills based education is being perhaps somewhat undermined by the government’s agenda to tackle the 16-18 NEET (not in education, employment and training) problems by obliging students within this category to take ‘apprenticeships’.


As far as skills delivery is concerned the Leitch agenda objectives prevail: level focussed, demand led, employer driven and qualification captured.


The ‘levels’ is easy (ish). Every qualification will be approved by the appropriate Sector Skills Council and will according to the level of language used for the outcomes be given an academic level between 0 and 7 (HE is 4 to 7). Each qualification will be sub-divided into ’10 hour credits of learning’, each of which can be assessed independently.


‘Demand led’ is relatively easy too. Provide prospective students with Skills Accounts that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) can top up as necessary (and avoiding the past problems with the similar Individual Learning Accounts of the 1990s) allow students to trade in their accounts for appropriate courses. For the employer who is unsure of the training opportunities that are available expand ‘Train to Gain’ and introduce a ‘National Employers Service’. Train to Gain brokers will link the employees of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) with training providers. Currently focussing in low level skills this brokerage service will expand over the nest 3 years to include HE based skills with a budget virtually doubling to just over a billion pounds.  The computer based register of learning providers and the qualification/ credit details recorded on the Qualification Credit (QCF) database will support their work. For larger employers with more than 5000 employees a regionally based national Employer Service will provide support and manage accounts. It is hoped that the work of this agency will encourage most internal staff development to be formalised and therefore recordable within the national database of Learner Achievement Records (of more later). Currently employers spend £33bn on training bit only 33% leads to accredited qualifications and the CBI is asking the government for £470m to provide an employer based accreditation service pilot linked to the QCF.


Employer driven?

 It will be the responsibility of the Sector Skills Councils to be responsive to employers’ needs in their development of national qualifications containing units of competence and understanding. The responsibility of employers to provide some kind of accreditation for in-hose training is yet to be agreed.


Capturing the qualifications will be orchestrated by the QCA/ MIAP QCF system which will record with the use of the ‘Unique Learner Number’ student achievement of a minimum of 10 guided learning hours of expertise (a credit).

The QCA/MIAP system consisting of details of learning providers, accredited qualifications and unit/credit details and learner records is expected to be fully operational by 2010. For more details see http://www.qca.org.uk/libraryAssets/media/QCF_Leaflet_final_web.pdf

MIAP expecting to service 2.5 million adult learners in their initial launch.

As part of the MIAP service, learners’ records will be subject to regular ‘Rules of Combination’ exercises by which students and their advisors will be pointed to future study opportunities that are based on their current profiles. Using the Unique Learner Number (initiated by the 14-19 agenda) IT based guidance services introduced for this age group will be expanded to support a new Adult Careers Service that will be closely linked with Job Centre Plus.


There is an implied confidence that the private computer services sector will be able to provide the required technical infrastructure.


FE is fully aware of the changes it will be making; Funding models will be changing to meet the demand led agenda with employers/ individuals carrying more of the cost for higher level (level 4 and above skills education). Increasingly the focus will move from education validated by recording achievement/ competence to recording achievement/ competence supported by education/ training to compensate for ‘gaps in expertise/ knowledge.  More assessment and underpinning knowledge/ skills based delivery will be conducted off site.


FE has been competing with private providers in this space for many years. With employer based provision planned within the recent Comprehensive Spending Review to be more than doubled to 1.2 million by 2011 there is plenty of profit to be made by responsive and flexible private providers.


Such private companies have been adept at providing vocational competence recording tools, online assessment (and assessment practice) systems and online content. Awarding bodies are increasingly likely to join with such companies to deliver a total service to companies and their employees that leave little space for colleges.


So what are the challenges for HE?


Competing with colleges and private providers for employer based education and training by offering better more flexible and responsive provision; marrying the QCF system with those planned for recording HE delivered achievements and accrediting prior achievement and learning ( a priority action for work based foundation degrees).


…and the challenges for JISC (blue sky thinking apart)?


Ensuring that there are close links with those private companies providing the services that underpin so much of this government’s skills agenda to harvest developments (such as data standards) that have an impact on JISC projects; anticipating issues such as identity management and trust systems for research and development that could hold up national implementations and develop and provide innovative services that can build on and complement those systems that underpin and support the government’s skills agenda


Clive Church  3rd December 2007




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