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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009

Section 128: Objectives

373.This section sets out five objectives for Ofqual in discharging its functions:

  • the qualifications standards objective,

  • the assessments standards objective,

  • the public confidence objective,

  • the awareness objective, and

  • the efficiency objective.

374.The statutory objectives in the current legislation, which apply to both QCA’s regulatory and non-regulatory functions, are much broader.

375.Ofqual’s objectives relate to “regulated qualifications”, which is a term defined in section 130 or to “regulated assessment arrangements”, as defined in section 131.

376.The qualifications standards objective – set out in section 128(2) – is for Ofqual to secure that regulated qualifications: (a) give a reliable indication of knowledge, skills and understanding; and (b) indicate a consistent level of attainment (including over time) between comparable regulated qualifications. “Reliability” here is used not in the sense used by qualifications experts, which means consistency of assessments, but rather in the broader general sense, which includes ensuring that the qualifications and the way in which they are assessed offer a valid way of measuring knowledge, skills and understanding.

377.Similarly, the assessment standards objective – set out in subsection (3) – is for Ofqual to promote the development and implementation of regulated assessment arrangements which: (a) give a reliable indication of achievement, and (b) indicate a consistent level of attainment (including over time) between comparable assessments. The ultimate responsibility for regulated assessment arrangements, which are statutory assessments, lies with the Secretary of State, so Ofqual’s role is to monitor and report on those arrangements, and in doing so to promote the maintenance of standards.

378.Ofqual must perform its functions with the aim of ensuring that comparable qualifications– whether they are contemporaneous or delivered at different times – indicate a consistent level of attainment. If the requirements of a qualification have changed over time, perhaps because the requirements of the industry to which they relate have evolved (this will be a particular issue in the IT industry, for example), it may be that a modern qualification is not comparable with its predecessor and therefore that Ofqual does not have to secure that the two qualifications indicate a consistent level of attainment. But if two qualifications are comparable, Ofqual must act to ensure that they do indicate a consistent level of attainment.

379.A similar set of requirements applies to the promotion of regulated assessments standards.

380.The standards of qualifications and assessments – the benchmarks against which learners are measured, or “assessment standards” – are not the same thing as the standards of education more broadly (“performance standards”). “Standards” in this first sense are like the height of a hurdle, and Ofqual’s objective is to keep that height consistent between comparable qualifications and assessments, including over time. Whilst it is generally a policy objective of the Government to improve the quality of teaching and learning so that the number of people able to jump the hurdle increases (which is how the term “standards” is more commonly used), that is not a concern of Ofqual’s under its standards objectives.

381.The public confidence objective is set out in subsection (4) and requires Ofqual to promote public confidence in regulated qualifications and regulated assessment arrangements. This is to ensure not only that qualifications are reliable but that they are trusted.

382.The awareness objective is set out in subsection (5) and, unlike the standards and public confidence objectives, it applies only in relation to regulated qualifications. The Secretary of State has statutory responsibility for regulated assessment arrangements, so it is for him to determine how to ensure that there is sufficient awareness of them.

383.This objective is concerned with promoting awareness of the range of regulated qualifications on offer, the benefits of regulated qualifications to learners, employers and institutions within the higher education sector and the benefits to awarding bodies (including, for example, employers awarding their own qualifications) of regulation.

384.The efficiency objective is set out in subsection (6) and requires Ofqual to ensure that regulated qualifications are provided efficiently and that any relevant sums payable for the award or authentication of a regulated qualification represent value for money. This objective reflects the fact that Ofqual will have a role as an economic regulator, including a power to cap examination fees. Ofqual does not have a specific efficiency objective in relation to regulated assessments, because these are statutory assessments delivered on behalf of the Secretary of State, rather than – as with qualifications – by independent organisations operating in a regulated market.

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