Giving you the confidence to choose the right qualification

Introduction

Taking a qualification can change your life by giving you the skills and confidence to move in a different direction. It can have significant implications for how much you can earn and what you will achieve. Taking a qualification is a serious commitment and frequently requires a large investment of time and money. So choosing the right qualification is very important. However, the qualifications system is complex and choosing a qualification can be daunting at any age or stage in life. There are thousands of different qualifications available, developed and delivered by a great variety of organisations.

This book shows you how to be a rational consumer in the market for qualifications.

You could compare the experience of choosing a qualification to shopping in a supermarket. The first task in the supermarket is to find the aisle where all the different brands of, say, breakfast cereal are displayed. This is easy to do. Faced with ten different brands of breakfast cereal, it could be difficult to make a choice but, again, a good supermarket clearly labels the products on its shelves so you can easily compare the contents and price.

When shopping for a qualification, all of this information is much more difficult to find. There may be ten different qualifications in hairdressing, all at the same level but provided by different organisations. The first challenge is just tracking the competing qualifications down; they will not be sitting neatly next to each other on a supermarket shelf. The bigger challenge is then to do an objective comparison of the qualifications in terms of content, quality and cost.

If we buy the wrong packet of breakfast cereal we can make sure to avoid that one next week – but a qualification is a big purchase. When we buy a TV or a car, we usually do background research – we might visit a number of stores or dealers to compare price and quality, and talk to some sales assistants, and we will probably search online.

At the moment, the qualifications industry provides nothing like the information that we get in a decent supermarket. And as qualification consumers we display nothing like the self-confidence and assertiveness that we display when we are buying a TV or a car, or that we display later when we find a problem with them.

It is important that as a consumer of qualifications you make calculated, rational decisions. It is vital that you don't let a lack of self-confidence deter you from asking searching questions. It takes time and energy to gather the information to judge which qualification is right for your needs – what level of difficulty is appropriate, what the differences are between qualifications, what constitutes value for money – and to assess the merits of the different providers offering to teach you the qualification.

The value of this book

  • This book shows you how to be a rational consumer in the market for qualifications.
  • The book is designed from the perspective of the consumer of qualifications.
  • It explains how to make informed judgements about the quality of a qualification and about the organisation offering to teach you that qualification.
  • The book explains what learners have the right to expect as they progress through their study, and what to do if something goes wrong.
  • The small things matter. This book understands that small, practical considerations can have a significant bearing on the quality of a learning experience.

A guide to the book

Each chapter of this book is designed to cut through the complexity of the qualifications system in order to present the information you need in a clear and straightforward way. The book guides you towards useful resources – people to talk to, sources of information and examples of best practice.

The book explains how to make informed judgements about the quality of a qualification and about the organisation offering to teach you that qualification.

Each chapter focuses on a particular subject and you can either read the book from start to finish, or go directly to the chapter which answers your particular needs. Here are some of the most important questions, together with the chapters that address them.

What type of qualification will suit your individual learning style?

It is worth considering what type of qualification best suits your preferred learning style. For example do you like the pressure of an end-of-course exam or do your prefer being assessed as you go along, through written assignments? What degree of flexibility do you want while learning? Do you want to learn in your own time or would you prefer learning in a classroom or workshop? Chapters 1 and 2 develop these issues. You should also go to Annexes 2 and 3 which outline the different types of learning providers and qualifications in the UK.

How important is reputation?

There are a number of questions to consider here. What is the reputation of the organisation that develops and delivers the qualification? What is the reputation of the qualification itself? You need to establish if the qualification is accepted and valued by employers or by further and higher education providers. Chapters 1, 5 and 7 discuss reputation.

What level of qualification should you take?

It is vital to get this decision right. Before starting a qualification you need to ask the following questions. Is the qualification at the right level for your needs? What does the qualification enable you to do? Does the qualification support entry into something else? To be able to answer these questions you also need to understand what information a national qualification level gives you. Chapters 3 and 5 and Annex 1 help you judge the level of a qualification.

How to establish the cost of qualification

It can be hard to clearly establish all the costs involved in taking a qualification. To do this effectively you need to be aware of the variety of costs you might face and also the language used to describe these costs. You also need to consider what funding is available. Do your circumstances, or the nature of the qualification, qualify you for external funding? It is also helpful to know where you can go for more information and advice in this area. Chapter 4 discusses cost, and funding.

How can you establish the quality of your qualification?

This is a central question for you as a qualification consumer. There are a number of dimensions to the quality of a qualification. You also need to consider how the quality of the qualification is checked and regulated, and whether the qualification is recognised by the education authorities. Chapter 5 explains how to judge the quality of the qualification, and discover how it is regulated.

The small things matter. This book understands that small, practical considerations can have a significant bearing on the quality of a learning experience.

How will you be assessed?

You need to be very clear on how you will be assessed. Knowing how your knowledge and skills will be tested and also the practical detail supporting a particular assessment is essential to your success. You also need to be confident that you will be assessed fairly and accurately. Chapter 6 explains what to look for.

How to establish the quality of the learning provider

How can you establish if the school, college or university is of high quality? Again, there are a number of dimensions to the quality of a learning provider, in terms of teaching, customer service, learning resources and learning environment. It is also important to examine inspectorate reports and consumer reviews. Chapter 7 explains how to assess the quality of the learning provider.

How can you get further information and advice?

A great deal of this book is focused on giving you the tools to judge the quality of a qualification and learning provider. However there are also very comprehensive qualification search engines and excellent sources of advice and support available in the UK. These are described in Chapter 8.

Will your qualification be recognised abroad?

There has been significant progress in recent years in allowing the recognition of qualifications between different countries. You might be considering moving abroad and be concerned about whether your qualifications will be recognised. Alternatively you might be looking to study or work in the UK and want to establish the value of your qualification. Chapter 9 explains how to discover how well your qualification will travel.

How can you assert your rights as a qualification consumer?

Though it is unlikely, things can go wrong when you take a qualification. Given the time, cost and effort involved in a qualification, and its potential impact on your future, you should not accept poor practice. You need to be clear on your rights as a qualifications consumer. You need to know what to do and who to speak to if something goes wrong or is not up to an acceptable standard. Chapter 10 explains your rights, and how to assert them.

Annexes

Annex 1 describes the main qualification frameworks in the UK, and using England as an example, outlines what each qualification level means in terms of knowledge and skills. Annex 2 provides an overview of the types of learning provider in the UK. Annex 3 reviews the main types of qualification available to learners. Annex 4 provides a comprehensive directory, including website addresses, of the organisations that can give information and advice on qualifications. A glossary of commonly used terms is provided at the end of the book.