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SHAPING INDUSTRY’S QUALIFICATIONS LANDSCAPE – GQA Says Agility is Key in Adapting to Virus Crisis 

In the midst of the virus crisis, many fenestration industry employees are either partway through pursuing qualifications or are asking whether now is a sensible time to begin to improve their professional knowledge. It is clear that in the current situation, in order for students to receive the optimum levels of service, vocational education providers must adapt quickly. Mick Clayton, Chief Executive Officer of GQA Qualifications, the fenestration industry’s leading awarding body, explains.

Here at GQA we firmly believe that working towards qualifications and identifying learning opportunities remain important during the virus crisis. And it appears we are not alone in this view. When the English government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy document, it was made clear that the construction sector should be operational, albeit safely. For the fenestration industry this meant that individuals should be able to continue to pursue qualifications and upgrade or improve their knowledge during the crisis.

It became immediately apparent that we needed to roll out clear new guidance to our network of over 100 approved centres, adding to that we had already generated when the virus first appeared. The guidance we have provided aims to minimise disruption and inconvenience for students whilst simultaneously maintaining and monitoring the validity and integrity of qualifications sought. It also takes into account guidance from all four UK regulatory authorities in addition to the directive issued by the Secretary of State for Education. The latter reflected the English Government’s aim of minimising disruption and disadvantage for those enrolled on or about to enrol on vocational and technical qualifications courses. The directive required that ‘consideration is given to adapting assessments or delivery models where this doesn’t undermine the reliability of the result.’ Ofqual, the English Regulatory Authority, had been requested to make appropriate changes to its regulatory framework and work with awarding bodies such as GQA in line with the government’s policy position.

In our guidelines for our approved centres we have drawn attention to the need for flexibility from assessors. For example there is a lot of technology that can be used to help reduce the need for physical visits or meetings. Assessors can pick one of several tools such as audio recordings, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and other platforms to record question and answer sessions or professional discussions. Additionally, we have guidance on how remote video and photography can be used as evidence of practical activities. We are also advising assessors to encourage candidates themselves to submit photographic/video evidence and detailed personal statements on work carried out so that assessors can use one of the tools above to ask relevant underpinning knowledge questions.

Other areas covered in our guidelines include for example using communications technology to gather meaningful witness testimonies from supervisors. As many centres move away from traditional, hard copy portfolios, other options are encouraged such as e-portfolio, uploading to GQA online and scan then email.

Here at GQA we are confident that many of the suggested ways of working during this time will be continued going forwards. Indeed, some of the feedback we have had has been along the lines of ‘We will probably be asking ourselves why we weren’t doing this before?’ We’re also very pleased to report that our approved centres have warmly received our guidelines.

Testimony of this appreciation has come from comments such as the one received from Jim Swainston at the GQA approved centre, Northern Skills Group, the commercial training arm of Middlesbrough College:

“The college works with a number of awarding organisations, and in a cross-department meeting the guidance given by GQA was identified as being extremely useful, and it was good to see that GQA was being proactive and prompt in issuing clear and comprehensive advice.”

As well as the guidance for onsite assessment, we have also issued some clear additional advice to centres around classroom delivery to ensure social distancing and other measures to protect the safety of centre staff and candidates.

During the pandemic, working towards qualifications and identifying learning opportunities are advisable and achievable. There are still lots of opportunities to collect valid learning evidence, and there is really nothing to stop people continuing their work. Our network of over 100 approved centres is key to facilitating qualifications attainment, not just in England, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also. We will continue to work in partnership with Government and the Regulatory Authorities from all 4 nations to ensure that employees can continue to improve standards in the fenestration industry during these challenging times.

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