Goodbye to the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF)

This summer will see one of the most important changes to the way qualifications are regulated and developed after Ofqual announced the withdrawal of rules governing the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF).

The current rules guide Awarding Organisations (AOs) such as Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (HABC) when designing and developing qualifications by setting out the criteria and guidelines that must be met and followed to ensure those qualifications are fit for purpose, are of genuine benefit to learners and can be accepted onto the QCF.

As with any change, there will be new terms and conditions to get used to.  Most of the changes are likely to have a greater impact on AOs.  However, it is possible that Centres may also be affected.  If this is the case then Highfield will keep you updated and assist in any way possible.

While there may be some change in terminology used in the skills sector, for the most part there will be little to no change in the qualifications you can offer, how you access funding or your relationship with Highfield.

Indeed, Highfield views these changes positively, as it means we will have even more opportunity to work closely with employers and training providers to develop bespoke and specialised qualifications that develop the high-skilled workforces industries need.

To provide reassurance, and to give you some insight into what is happening, we have a summary of the changes below.

Why are the QCF rules being withdrawn?
Since its introduction in 2008, there have been some concerns that the QCF did not always meet the needs of employers and learners, and that it created a system that encouraged formulaic, generic and ‘one size fits all’ qualifications.

This was in part due to the prescriptive nature of the QCF, which set out what qualifications must look like to be recognised.  To providers this was paramount, as without formal recognition on the QCF, qualifications sometimes struggled to attract recognised status and funding.  A later consequence of this was that some AOs (though not Highfield) designed qualifications specifically so they would meet the Skills Funding Agency’s (SFA) funding criteria, rather than necessarily meet the needs of employers and learners.   Thus, the QCF didn’t always support the design of good qualifications.

Another problem was that the QCF was often unnecessarily complicated, proving difficult to understand to those in the skills sector and even harder to explain to those outside it. One key problem was confusion over the titles of some qualifications – which could be inaccurate or even misleading – along with difficulties in the comparability between them.  In short, it was sometimes problematic trying to compare like for like, meaning employers and learners were not always making a completely informed choice.

Since the middle of 2014, Ofqual has been consulting with the wider skills sector on the proposals to withdraw the QCF rules, the outcome being that many of those participating in the consultation shared Ofqual’s view on the limitations and constraints of the QCF, while recognising the need for some form of regulated framework.

The Framework of Regulated Qualifications (FRQ)
The replacement for the QCF will be the Framework of Regulated Qualifications (FRQ), which will begin to be implemented from summer 2015.  Among its many intentions, the FRQ has one basic aim that Ofqual believes will give it an advantage over the QCF – simplicity for employers and learners.

So how will this be achieved?

Rather than set out guidelines on how AOs should design qualifications in order to be recognised, the FRQ will simply describe the qualifications that are available.

This will be done by making AOs provide information about the content of each qualification and its components, and setting out how a qualification relates to others and the progression routes between them.  The FRQ will also give an indication of the skills that the holder of a particular qualification will have, and give each qualification a level and size using a common language and terminology.   This will apply to and encompass every qualification that Ofqual regulates.

It is hoped this ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’ approach will reduce the complexity that came with the QCF and make it easier for employers and learners to navigate the system, compare qualifications more accurately and then make a better informed choice.

How will it work?
Although the FRQ will not impose design rules on AOs, that is not to say there will be no structure and no requirements.  There will be.

First, each qualification will be required to have a level and size, although qualifications that already have an appropriate level will not have to change.  There will also be a new set of level descriptors – divided into knowledge and skills categories only and ranging from Entry 1 to Level 8 – that point to what a learner will be expected to achieve.

How the size and components of qualifications are described will be consistent across the FRQ, in keeping with the idea of a ‘common language’ and terminology to help comparisons between them.  Likewise, qualification titles will be scrutinised more to make sure they provide employers and learners with a good indication of what they are about (objective, knowledge and skills to be assessed, and complexity) without overstating or misleading users.  There will be new guidance for titling concerning the use of particular terms in titles, the removal of the term ‘QCF’ from the title of qualifications, and the use of the term NVQ where a qualification is based on agreed occupational standards, confers occupational competence and requires work-based and/or simulated assessment.

As with the QCF, there will still be 8 levels at which qualifications can sit, meaning the FRQ will still align with the European Qualification Framework (EQF), making international comparisons – to support mobility and portability – easier.

And there will be a greater emphasis on prior learning, making it simpler for this to be taken into account when starting a qualification, improving efficiency and minimising unnecessary rework.

Perhaps the biggest likely change, however, is in how the size of qualifications will be measured, with Ofqual stating that all qualifications will have a size, expressed in terms of total qualification time (TQT) and where appropriate guided learning hours (GLH).

Impact on Centres
Highfield expects the bulk of the impact to be on AOs, although there could some effect on Centres in terms of collecting data – something Highfield has raised with Ofqual.  However, the main change is likely to be on AOs and the way qualifications are developed.  There will of course be some change in terminology and the way in which we estimate the size of qualifications and the descriptors we use, but there will also be greater freedom to design assessments that are more accurately based on the skills and knowledge employers need.  Highfield has raised the prospect of increased requirements with Ofqual via the consultation, and will advise and assist Centres accordingly.

From a funding point of view, the SFA has already announced that it will adopt a ‘framework neutral’ stance, meaning it will consider funding qualifications based on merit regardless of which framework they sit on, which in itself could prompt the development of new, bespoke qualifications.

The next steps
The regulatory arrangements for the QCF will be withdrawn and the QCF unit bank closed on 30 September 2015.  A new framework for all Ofqual-related qualifications will be introduced on 1 October supported by the new level descriptors for categories of knowledge and skills.

To many this may seem as yet an unnecessary change, or the oft-quoted ‘tinkering with the system’, but it is a change that Highfield welcomes and genuinely believes will help improve the way we do things, and make for better qualifications and courses that more accurately meet the needs of employers and learners.

As Ofqual itself puts it, ‘Removing the QCF rules will allow AOs to design qualifications that meet the needs of those who use them and, where certain elements of design are no longer prescribed, enable us more clearly to hold awarding organisations to account for the choices they make.  A new qualifications framework will be one way to help employers, higher education institutions, funding bodies, students and other users to navigate their way through the range of qualifications available and make informed choices’.

Ofqual will be publishing a regulatory impact assessment in September.  Until then, if you have any questions about the changes, please speak to your Highfield account manager.  You can also find out more at via the Ofqual website.