UK Country Study
Professor Danny Saunders – Wales
Professor Bob Johnson – England
Professor Raymond Thompson – Scotland
Dr Celia O‟Hagan – Northern Ireland
Acknowledgements 1 Introduction/Background 2 Summary of response – Existing APEL Arrangements 7
Table 1 7
Table 2 8
Country Report Wales 9 Country Report England 19 Country Report Scotland 32 Country Report Northern Ireland 45
Appendix I: Headline comments
Appendix II: Experts questionnaire
I would like to thank a number of people who contributed to making this report possible. First, thanks to the four country reporters Professor Danny Saunders for Wales, Professor Bob Johnson for England, Dr Celia O‟Hagan for Northern Ireland and Professor Raymond Thompson for
Scotland. Despite the short timescale and other constraints, the country reporters did an excellent job in producing four highly informative snapshots of where APEL arrangements and developments have got to in the four constituent parts of the UK.
A debut of gratitude is also owed to all those colleagues across the UK who were kind enough to contribute information and expert thinking which fed into each of the country reports. The Forum for the Advancement of Continuing Education (FACE) kindly agreed to provide financial management facilities. Thanks therefore to Maree Walker, the FACE Treasurer for her professional input.
Jenny Berlin, my colleague at the Centre for Widening Participation Policy Studies at the University of East London provided first class administrative support, which was greatly appreciated.
Finally, I would like to thank Pat Davies, Transfine Project Director, for her support, direction and understanding.
UK Study Co-ordinator
University of East London
Chair of the Forum for the Advancement for Continuing Education (FACE)
This report reviews progress to date and provides a summary set of discussions on the key areas identified within phase II of the Transfine project. The report presents an overview of the current “state of the art” in respect of transfer between formal, informal and non-formal learning across the
four constituent parts of the UK. To a large extent this section serves as an introduction to the four individual UK country reports which follow. These individual country reports offer between them a series of snapshots informed by a short period of field work which addressed the terms of reference for this phase of the project. This report does not seek to provide a fully comprehensive account of the “state of play” across the UK in these areas, as this was not possible given the resources and time available. However, the report does present an important set of discussions and insights into the key questions identified within the terms of reference for phase II of Transfine. One of the first considerations in setting up the UK study was to understand the purpose of the project and in particular its terms of reference in the context of the developments in the constituent parts of the UK. Although not a perfect fit, the Assessment or Accreditation of Prior and Experiential Learning (APEL) is, broadly, the term used in the UK to cover the areas of activity included in the Transfine brief. As is evident from the individual reports, the UK has a widespread set of systems for APEL dating back in some cases to the early 1980‟s at least. This report will therefore use the term APEL as shorthand to denote transfer between formal, informal and non-formal learning and similar activities.
It is also important to note that APEL incorporates for the purpose of this report, both assessment and accreditation. In some instances it is used to imply a process that precedes the award of credit, but might result nevertheless with credit being awarded. In such examples assessment would be the prime purpose. However, where the stated purpose is to award credit, normally leading to a qualification then the term accreditation would usually apply. This distinction is reflected in a number of examples which are referred to in the individual UK reports. Although not an absolution distinction it does tend to be used in practice to denote whether the learning in question is either formal or informal. The latter tends to lead to assessment and the former to accreditation. Collectively then the four reports by drawing on both the policy and practice of APEL across the nine fields of activity illustrate something of the spread and depth of APEL arrangements in the UK. In addition to this, and often as an integral part of it, the reports also provide a commentary on the system for Credit Accumulation and Transfer (CAT) where these are linked to APEL arrangements. Here again, individual reports reflect how widespread and developed CAT is in the different sectors and fields of activity where APEL is found.
Although there is a considerable amount in common in relation to CATS within the UK and indeed with ECTS, it is also important to note that there are areas of difference as well. As the country reports illustrate, it is also the case that within the nine areas of activity that Transfine is concerned with there are considerable variations in the degree to which for instance credit features. It is evident from the information gathered by the UK research team that, both in relation to APEL and CATS, the picture that emerges is both complex and uneven, giving raise to important questions about the relationship between for instance formal and informal learning. If we further add to this the role and contribution that CATS can and in fact does already make in some instances, you begin to appreciate what it means to describe the picture as being complex and uneven. Methodological Issues
The UK research team comprised a UK co-ordinator and four country reporters. The country reporters undertook field work and produced a report based on findings from their respective fieldwork activities. Reports were therefore provided for Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. Between them the four members of the research team had in-depth understanding and wide experience of:
; Vocational training
; Professional bodies
; National Agencies
; EU Programmes
It is also important to recognise that partly as a consequence of this wide ranging set of experience, the research team had an extensive network of contacts, highly relevant to the questions explored in the fieldwork. Given the limited timeframe, such contacts and experience proved as effective as they were valuable. This summary introduction gives as accurate an impression of developments in relation to APEL practices from across the UK as possible within the parameters of this limited study. So not withstanding the differences of volume of activity and focus, which taken together the four reports provide between them important information and clues for the further development of APEL services, in both the UK and wider Europe.
The approach pursued by each reporter varied in both relation to the combination of research methods adopted and also the range of information sources they were able to drawn upon. The latter being referred where possible to the nine fields of activity included in the terms of reference. Research methods used included:
(i) Documentary analysis of policy documents from government departments, national agencies,
professional institutions, training bodies, regulatory systems
(ii) Expert seminars: Groups of experts from different sectors usually experienced APEL
practitioners. This approach provided an opportunity to gather information in an interactive
(iii) Expert Questionnaire: This was designed and produced by the UK Co-ordinator and
incorporated all the key areas of inquiry from the terms of reference. The research team
were asked to use these headings and questions to structure both their information gathering
activities and also their country reports. The questionnaire was used in a number of ways
including being targeted electronically to key individuals.
(iv) Meetings/discussions/interviews with a sample of key stakeholders: Breakdowns of
activities are given in the individual reports, but a wide variety of important players have
In order to establish a proper basis from which to make comparisons, not only between the four UK country reporters but also for further comparisons to be undertaken across the five European Country Studies, it was essential for all the research team to operate with a similar set of headings. In the case of the UK research team this approach provided an important operating framework from which to proceed. This operating framework developed from the headings included in the terms of reference informed both the sources to be approached and also the organisation of the country report. Inevitably, given the constraints in time in particular, the extent to which each country report was able to cover all aspects of the terms of reference varied. However, between the four reports, it is possible to gain an overall picture of the existing arrangements for APEL across the various parts of the UK.
The following two tables provide a breakdown of the key pieces of information provided in the four UK reports which summarise the existing arrangements for APEL. The variety of practice and provision captured in the tables illustrates something of the spread of APEL and the extent of development of the services that exist.
Qualifications Systems and Employers
One of the underlying issues hinted at in the reports is the fact that APEL systems and provision are to be found in both educational and training contexts. The former linked to academic qualifications and where applicable credit accumulation and transfer and the latter usually part of the National Vocational Qualifications N(S)VQ framework. The approaches to and the philosophies that inform APEL in these two contexts are marked by significant differences. As the reports from the four parts of the UK between them contain a disproportionate amount of information about academic related APEL services, a brief outline of APEL in the context of N(S)VQ will be provided. The process of establishing and accrediting a National Vocation Qualification involves a number of stages. An industry lead body is established by the Employment department. Occupational areas within the coverage or scope of the lead body are mapped and roles analysed in order to produce a framework of what are described as occupational standards. These standards are presented as units of competence, broken down into elements, which are further divided into statements of competence with associated performance criteria, range statements and guidelines for assessment. Awarding bodies adopt the standards, incorporating them into existing or new qualifications. The national council for Vocational Qualifications “kite marks” or accredits the qualifications, at one of
the five levels within the N(S)VQ framework. Awarding based on valid assessments and monitor and verify assessment to national standards. One important feature of the N(S)VQ framework in terms of assessment is that it automatically incorporates the acknowledgement and accreditation of prior learning, which is addressed before an individual training programme is designed for learners. Despite the academic and vocational system do nevertheless share a common belief in a fundamental principle informing APEL provision, which is that learning achievements capable of assessment regardless of time, place or context can be accredited within both systems. It is however important to note that the N(S)VQ framework for APEL and the academic context of APEL are in many respects insulated from each other despite sharing some common features. This division derives mainly from the fact that the N(S)VQ system is a national system and therefore operates according to national regulations. Contrast this with APEL provision in the academic context where it is a matter for each university to decide whether they will offer APEL services and on what basis these will be provided. Another important difference between the two systems is that in the case of N(S)VQ the system, as described, is based on a model of assessment underpinned by a hierarchy of competence, which are criterion referenced to the occupational standards for any given vocational field. APEL provision in the academic context is as the reports indicate extremely variable, but usually involves an approach to assessment which includes learning outcomes and notional time. So there are important and distinctive differences between the two systems and they tend to operate as
separate systems so far as APEL provision is concerned with each system providing different opportunities for APEL.
Given the important role that N(S)VQ play in relation to training for employment and consequently the opportunities that enable work based learning to be assessed and accredited within the N(S)VQ framework, it is vital to situate APEL in this broader context. Evidence from Anders Nilsson, who co-ordinated the CEDEFOP survey of non-formal and informal learning indicates in the case of the UK, the significant involvement that employers and trade unions have in APEL in relation to work based learning and vocational qualifications. Employers have a key role for example not only in providing the physical base for training, which can lead to the accreditation of work based learning through the N(S)VQ system as described but also, through contributing to the setting of the occupational competences which, as we have seen form the basis of N(S)VQ, and enable individuals to have their work based and broader experiential learning accredited.
The role of trade unions and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in supporting opportunities for APEL amongst its members illustrates yet another strand of training provision which enables learners to gain accreditation based on in this case on their trade union activities. Through partnerships with the National Open College Network the TUC is offering for example, routes to Open College accreditation based in part on the assessment of prior learning.
It is vitally important to recognise the extent of APEL related provision that exists in the vocational domain and furthermore to understand the degree of separation that exists between the academic and vocational systems in relation to APEL.
To summarise the main findings of each of the four UK constituent reports the following tables are provided to give a breakdown of the key characteristics of existing APEL arrangements in each part of the UK.
Greater detail and discussion of some of the points can be found in the main reports from the four countries.