A common family of National Certificates regulated by a single qualifications body has been proposed by Sir Ron Dearing in an interim report on his review of education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds.
The certificates would record achievement on academic and vocational courses in a unified framework of qualifications in England and Wales which could prompt a merger between the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to form a new national Qualifications Authority.
In a radical re-think of the current "jungle" of some 14,000 post-school qualifications, Sir Ron, who was commissioned by the Government to carry out the review, suggests a more coherent, cost-effective, comprehensible and flexible qualifications system must be developed.
The new framework would combine the best features and amend the worst of A and AS levels and vocational qualifications, while maintaining high standards, in an effort to encourage achievement of new national education and training targets set in the Competitiveness White Paper in May. It may also incorporate a point score system for entry into higher education being developed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which combines achievements in A levels and vocational qualifications.
Sir Ron's interim report, which details issues to be tackled in the second stage of the review running through to Easter next year, says A levels may be approaching the limit of the market for which they were designed, leaving vocational routes as the main source for expansion and so increasing the importance of ensuring high standards and rigorous assessment on courses leading to National Vocational Qualifications and General NVQs.
It suggests that A-level syllabuses may benefit from making the outcomes of learning more explicit, as NVQs and GNVQs do, while the coherence of courses leading to vocational qualifications might be improved by including external tests, centrally set and marked assignments and synoptic assessment. Common elements for A-level and GNVQ courses could be developed to help students understand the options before them. Assessment of "core skills" in areas like communication, numeracy and information technology, currently a feature of GNVQs, might also be extended to all courses.
The proposals for a new family of umbrella awards called National Certificates are a resurrection of plans for Ordinary and Advanced Diplomas floated but never carried through by the Government in 1991. The Certificates would record all achievement in national academic and vocational qualifications. The award of an "Advanced level National Certificate" might be limited to those students achieving the equivalent of two A levels plus three core skills.
Sir Ron, who is chairman of SCAA, said a more coherent framework with a common, jargon-free language, would be easier to achieve if a joint committee was set up between SCAA and the NCVQ. Eventually, the two might merge to form a new national Qualifications Authority.