Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (SEMTA)

1. Executive Summary

(i) We propose that competition amongst awarding organisations, for applied qualifications, 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 which is so crucial for assessment strategies which are fit for purpose and ultimately provide progression opportunities for young people into industry.

2. The Submitter of Evidence

(i) Semta is the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies. We aim to address the sector’s skills needs, providing expert support to improve performance and growth.

(ii) The Semta Group comprises EAL (EMTA Awards Ltd) which is the UK’s leading awarding body for engineering National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and their Scottish equivalents (SVQs). Established with the sole purpose of helping the industry invest in its future through vocational qualifications, and as a sister company to Semta, EAL has unrivalled expertise in meeting the qualification needs of the engineering and technology sector. The Semta Group also comprises The National Skills Academy for Manufacturing which is a centre of excellence to tackle the skills priorities of the UK manufacturing sector.

3. Evidence

(i) Semta knows, through the experience of our Awarding Body, EAL and National Skills Academy for Manufacturing, that it is vital for the future of the businesses we represent and for the employment and economic growth the government wishes to achieve, that the vocational education and training sector, both in its awarding functions and delivery are able to provide a robust and agile response to our sectors’ needs. This will ultimately mean more employment opportunities for young people in this vitally important growth sector for government.

(ii) Semta endorses the government’s overall reform programme to provide genuine choice for employers and learners and a high quality education sector which meets their needs.

(iii) In terms of the examinations aspect, it is also crucial that there is a competitive environment to allow direct employer engagement in the process which creates genuine pathways for learners within schools into the engineering, manufacturing and technologies sectors.

(iv) Semta forecasts that in our sectors there will be requirement in England of some 138,000 jobs over the next five years representing a crucial opportunity for young people, who are well prepared to enter the industry. This means there needs to be an environment which supports awarding organisations who understand their sectors, their employers, and their future skills requirements and who are adept at translating these needs into interesting and challenging syllabuses of applied learning.

(v) EAL currently provides vocationally-related qualifications at levels 1 and 2 on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) to over 2000 students aged between 14 and 16, across England, Wales and Scotland. 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.

(vi) The learning outcomes of EAL’s qualifications are designed to be assessed through a variety of media—not only “examinations”—and it is the availability of this variety, coupled with their employment of full-time technical experts, who provide advice and guidance on both learning and assessment, which gives the learner a rich experience founded on current industry practice.

(vii) We would be concerned that the introduction of external examinations into school qualifications that are also offered in further education could create a two tier system. For example, there could be two tiers of BTEC Applied Science qualifications but both based on the same specification. The schools would have some external assessment built-in but in further education the same qualification would continue with internal assessment. This could lead to confusion amongst learners and employers and standards would be difficult to maintain. In the case of Engineering, the BTEC’s for example, would be undermined as they are also used in Apprenticeship Frameworks.

(viii) Whilst some of the content of units of learning on the QCF is fixed by the SSC such as Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) and used by all awarding organisations, the flexibility that allows awarding organisations to also offer their own brand of qualifications can only exist in a competitive environment. These important qualifications are also in many cases the technical certificates within engineering apprenticeship pathways—the PEO providing the reassurance that the learners and future apprentices would be safe working in a business. These qualifications therefore provide important progression opportunities for learners to gain apprenticeships and we would be opposed to any significant changes to their assessment that would devalue their status with employers and possibly create confusion with providers.

(ix) In the vocational education and training sector, we are not confident that a single awarding organisation for schools would galvanise employers, across every occupational area, to engage in the qualification development process to the level that currently exists or that is necessary to ensure applied qualifications and assessment strategies are fit for purpose and enable progression.

4. Recommendation

(i) We recommend that having a competitive environment offering choice amongst awarding organisations offering applied qualifications 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.

November 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012