Lessons from Policy Failure: The Demise of a National Qualifications Framework Based Solely on Learning Outcomes in England Alan Brown
Summary: National (and European) Qualifications Frameworks, which map qualifications in a similar way according to the specification of learning outcomes and then assign them a unique position within a hierarchical system of levels, have proven to be very attractive to policy makers. They offer the prospect of improving transparency between qualifications and aiding mobility but, as with all policies, the acid test is how the policy is implemented in practice, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs — particularly when bearing in mind the opportunity costs of achieving the same goal by different means. As many countries are now considering how to implement a National Qualifications Framework (NQF), it is perhaps instructive to look at the reasons for the policy failure of an NQF based exclusively on learning outcomes in England. Learning what particular problems should be avoided may be a useful lesson for other countries that want to learn from the English experience when developing their own NQFs. However, the major lesson to be learned is that a focus on competence, mapping qualifications, levels, and outcomes can become a distraction from the much more challenging goal of improving the quality of teaching and learning. Shifting attention to a developmental approach to the development of expertise may prove to be more effective by highlighting the importance of the processes of learning and the need to support the development of expansive learning environments in education, training, and employment. Recognising that the development of an NQF has a limited part to play in this process, and that a “rough guide” to equivalence will often be sufficient in mapping potential progression pathways, may be a useful starting point for this shift.