Quality to the core

February 20, 2004

Your report "Edexcel failures spark concern", (February 13) betrays a lack of understanding of how the quality "regime" works.

Edexcel's primary role is to design the course structure (the specification) and assessment mechanisms. If the qualification is level 4 or below, it must be accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to ensure that it is educationally and structurally fit for purpose before we can take up the idea with colleges.

The QCA makes stringent quality checks. At degree level, such as the new Btec foundation degrees, qualifications must be validated by universities, not by awarding bodies. We have created a partnership with Northumbria and Greenwich universities for this purpose. Once an institution expresses an interest in our course, we have to approve it as suitably equipped and qualified. We need to see that there are sufficiently trained lecturers, adequate resources and an acceptable track record.

Once we are comfortable that these criteria have been met and the college can offer the course, our role relates only to assessment. Our external examiners must ensure that the internal assessment accords to the intended standard and procedures. From this year, new arrangements are based on requirements set out in the Quality Assurance Agency's code of practice. As an awarding body, we have no jurisdiction or responsibility beyond that specific role. We are not responsible for the quality of teaching - important though this is and much as we aim to provide support where we can.

The broader quality role is where the QAA comes in. As the body charged with monitoring general higher education quality standards, its job is to oversee the management and performance of colleges. It carries this out by holding inspections. The fact that Edexcel qualifications feature strongly in such inspections is a function of our scale. Our qualifications feature strongly throughout further education, where our Btec nationals, higher national certificates and diplomas are popular choices.

If the QAA were to find poor standards in course structure or in the assessment procedures that we supervise, it would contact us immediately.

This has not happened in any of the cases cited.

Quality will always be an issue because standards and expectations change.

Cooperation between the agencies, the awarding bodies and the institutions has improved much recently.

For colleges, there is also a need to perform, and the QAA's identification of problems is not part of a devilish name-and-shame tactic but is rather a constructive policy aimed at helping them focus on areas that need improvement.

Rick Firth
Btec director, Edexcel

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