Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by EMTA Awards Limited (EAL)

1. Executive Summary

(i) We propose that competition amongst awarding organisations, in the vocational education and training sector, provides a stable and cost effective service to learners and their centres and which also contributes significantly to the maintenance of standards.

(ii) A change to a single awarding organisation isn’t likely to attract the employer involvement and engagement levels currently supporting awarding organisations, nor is such a move likely to remove the problems experienced with examinations in the public domain.

2. The Submitter of Evidence

(i) EMTA Awards Ltd (EAL) has a 47 year history of awarding qualifications in the engineering and related occupational sectors. Our roots were laid down in 1964 when the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) was founded under the Industrial Training Act. Our position as the leading awarding organisation for industry was established by the introduction of National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) in the 1990s. The EITB was succeeded by the Engineering Training Authority (ETA), then EnTra, the industry training organisation, before emerging as the Engineering & Marine Training Authority (EMTA). EAL (EMTA Awards Limited) was incorporated as an independent awarding organisation in 1998, backed by a managing director and board with vast experience of meeting industry needs.

3. Evidence

(i) We currently provide vocationally-related qualifications at levels 1 and 2 on the Qualifications and Credit Framework to over 2,000 students aged between 14 and 16, across England, Wales and Scotland through tri-partite arrangements with 123 local Colleges of Further Education, Employers and Private Training Providers. These qualifications enable both the application of disciplinary knowledge—in mathematics and science—to engineering concepts and, conversely, enable the use of those applications to strengthen and reinforce the learning of the disciplines.

(ii) The learning outcomes of our qualifications are designed to be assessed through a variety of media—not only “examinations”—and it is the availability of this variety, coupled with our employment of full-time technical experts, who provide advice and guidance on both learning and assessment and provide a valuable support mechanism for teachers and lecturers.

(iii) Whilst the content of units of learning extant upon the Qualifications and Credit Framework in England, and its equivalents in Wales and Scotland, is fixed and used by all awarding bodies offering an individual qualification, the flexibility that allows differing methods of assessment and levels of service provision to centres can only exist in a competitive environment. This competition allows schools and colleges choice in their selection of awarding organisations for different qualifications—this choice being related directly to the needs of each centre and its learners.

(iv) The concept of having a single awarding organisation for schools may have attraction in general education but there are grave dangers in introducing such a situation in the world of vocational education and training. An organisation such as ours already works closely with employers across the industries we serve to ensure that the design, content and assessment of our qualifications meet the needs of those industries—providing them with nationwide sources of work-ready candidates to fill their skills needs. Our strength comes from our engagement with these employers and our own employment of subject experts who provide that crucial “translation” from employer needs into syllabus content. We are doubtful that a single awarding organisation would galvanise employers, across every occupational area, to engage in the qualification development process to the level that currently exists. Given that such involvement is seen to be important in the current government view of the future for vocational education and training, the existing situation is far more able to meet those aspirations.

(v) Although we, like all awarding organisations, recommend teaching and learning resources that support our qualifications, we would not consider it necessary or desirable to have any commercial link between the separate undertakings of awarding and publication activities.

(vi) We are mindful of the Select Committee’s concern about the quality lapses that seem to occur annually in general examinations. However, these are unlikely to be remedied by the introduction of a single awarding body—that which exists in Scotland has not provided the freedom from error hoped for when it was created. The process which creates, examines and grades examination-type educational assessment is just that—a process. As such it requires clear and decisive management within the organisations that produce these products and a rigid and defined quality control system. Language that deliberately uses industrial and commercial terminology, not education speak—wherein lies a possible issue—many of those involved in general examinations have a tendency to lean towards an educational background rather than one which understands and applies relevant and focussed quality management into the processes.

(vii) Awarding organisations are, in the main, not-for-profit bodies but as such need to see an income which gives both a return on their investment and sufficient surplus to re-invest in the development of future qualifications meeting the needs of employers and learners alike. In such a situation, it is arguable that managers within these organisations have an even greater responsibility for the appropriate stewardship of their resources than their opposite numbers in other organisations, whose actions will be subject to shareholder scrutiny.

4. Recommendations

(i) We would urge Members to recommend that choice amongst awarding organisations in the vocational education and training sector holds the greater value and is more appropriate for meeting the needs of learners, centres and employers both now and in the future.

(ii) The Select Committee may also wish to consider the level to which commercial best practice in quality control and assurance is applied across the whole examination process and the extent to which external Regulation of the minutiae of that process has had the effect of impinging upon and possibly distracting from the quality control of the outputs.

November 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012