One of the more controversial recommendations for the new T levels qualifications is that each should be provided by a single organization. This would be a major change from how qualifications post age 14 are administered currently.
This is not a new idea and below we reflect on some of the main arguments made over the years
Interestingly it also runs counter to the recommendations of a separate review on by Frontier Economics in July last year on behalf of the DfE
A market for qualifications
It can strike people as odd that there is a market in exams such that schools and colleges can choose from a range of providers., between three and five in the case of A levels and GCSEs and around 120 for vocational qualifications. It is important to note however that these organizations need to be licensed by the regulator
The case for and against
The case for competition is that this leads to better quality of specification design, customer service and innovation. This in turn means that the quality of what is taught in schools will improve as schools and colleges choose the best on offer.
The argument against is most often centered on the potential for ‘a race to the bottom’ s schools choose easier boards
Again it is important to note the role of the regulator in licensing providers and as part of this keeping a close eye on awards to ensure comparability between boards
Vocational qualifications and consumer choice, a different argument
The ‘race to the bottom’ argument for T levels can be similarly rebutted
However, perhaps more compelling is the argument that the vast array of qualifications and providers impacts negatively on student’s choices
However, Frontier economics were commissioned to look specifically at vocational qualifications and were clear that the risks of a single provider outweighed those of continuation of the current model. Notably operational risks of eggs in one basket and the loss of an opportunity to revert as industry expertise is lost
Altain’s perspective has historically been that there are bigger concerns for the education system to address and that a change from a multiple board approach risks being a distraction.
However, we can see that consumer choice in vocational is an issue that will repay further thought ideally leading to a solution that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Which approach is best, single or multiple provider? How significant is the economists view? Can we meet students’ needs for clarity of choice without resorting to the single provider model?