SQA runs a series of research seminars when we hear from educational researchers about their latest projects. I attended a seminar this afternoon about National Qualification Frameworks (NQFs).
Scotland's own NQF - the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) - has been on the go since 2001 and countries across the world are introducing similar frameworks.
Stephanie Allais, of the University of Edinburgh, reported on her work for the United Nations comparing NQFs across the world. She looked at 16 case studies, from Scotland to Australia, which introduced its NQF in 1995.
She reported that the impact of NQFs is hard to measure, and their impact has been a mix of success and failure. Part of the problem is that few countries had tried to actually measure their impact in any systematic way so there was little hard evidence for their claimed successes or failures.
All frameworks used a number of levels (most commonly 8 levels), and all used level descriptors to define each level. Some frameworks were defined to a great degree of precision, and this had led to problems of complexity. Many were based on the NVQ framework, which originated in England in the early 1990's (and has subsequently been replaced). Every NQF managed to simplify the "jungle of qualifications" that often existed prior to their introduction. But there was little evidence that any new qualifications that were produced as a result of NQFs were any better than what went before. NQFs often led to highly complex qualification systems (she cited a Mexican qualification that ran to 90 pages).
Stephanie was positive about SCQF, which she considered a success. It was developed in a more consensual, collaborative way than most other NQFs and, as a result, had much wider respect and recognition than most others. Its implementation had also been a lot smoother than most other frameworks. Her only negative observation was that some educationalists didn't think it had had much real impact on the Scottish educational system.
One of her most interesting statements was: "The least ambitious frameworks achieved the most. And the most ambitious achieved the least." A principle that can be applied across education.