GQA Qualifications Blog

Thursday 9 January 2014

Pass, Merit or Distinction?

I recently attended the FAB (Federation of Awarding Bodies) Conference and one of the key topics was the changes to Apprenticeships brought about by the Richards Review. One of the many significant changes is that Apprenticeships will be graded, so successful completion of an Apprenticeship will be identified as a pass, merit or distinction. The idea is that grading will encourage apprentices to strive for excellence and will maximise the usefulness of an Apprenticeship in the labour market.

During my involvement with learners of all ages, initially as an Assessor and Internal Verifier, but the last 5 years or so as an External Verifier, I have seen some excellent candidates who have great skills and who have produced fantastic portfolios of evidence. I have also met a lesser number who have met the standards; but no more than that. Although the qualification requirements have been met with both types of learner it has sometimes seemed a little unfair that the individual who has gone “above and beyond” still comes out with exactly the same qualification certificate. There are of course others involved in qualification delivery-the Training Provider/College and Assessor, and last but by no means least the Employer.
We all know that “adding value” is a key factor in the success of a Training Provider and although this added value shows in the performance of the learner (and hopefully benefits the Employer as a whole), there is no official recognition of this in the qualification Certificate.  The success rate of a Training Provider is currently only officially measured in terms of retention and achievement rates; timely or otherwise. We know there is more to it than that-perhaps the grading system will help identify those who do add value. 
One of the perceived benefits of grading Apprenticeships is to help with future employment- a potential Employer should have a better idea of the capabilities of the individual when the grading system is introduced; additionally the achiever of an Apprenticeship with a distinction could have an edge in the job market.
Of course any new system is not without concerns-fears include the thought that grading apprentices may result in an overemphasis on areas of work that have marks, such as written tests. This is something to be avoided in our Industries; although knowledge is obviously absolutely essential no-one should lose sight of the fact that Apprenticeships are about proving competence in the workplace. The Industry Apprentice Council outlined their vision for continuous assessment throughout an Apprenticeship, as opposed to an “end of course” testing; the ongoing assessments should be used to form a final grade.
Although there is no suggestion that the individual aspects of an Apprenticeship will all be graded, and we all understand  that the decision on qualifications has always been based on “is the candidate competent?” with 3 options-“yes”, “no” or “not enough evidence to make a judgement”- now there could be  the added complexity of “how competent”?

It would be interesting to know what you think. Please feel free to let me have any comments, either below or by  e-mail to