The implications of introducing and development of recognition of prior learning were enormous but were those who were being directed by other actions for change within vocational education and training department. If individuals were able to obtain a requirement ‘one unit at a time’, they would also wish to receive the remainder of that qualification just the same process. The distribution system must, consequently, cater to the individualized needs and offer courses at a time and place and in a mode to suit personal demand. Entries procedures and class structures and timetables would need to change. Staff resources would need to be allocated to cope with individualized counseling and assessment.
In March 1987, the Training Agency conducted an exploratory study with the cooperation of the major UK awarding bodies and the NCVQ. The purpose of this study was to examine the possibility of taking forward work on the RPL. The final report (6) recommended that a national RPL project would be possible only if all interested bodies worked together to develop a common and agreed approach.
In October 1987 the TA arid NCVQ launched a national feasibility study (7) to determine the possibility of using evidence of accomplishment from previous experience to recognize current competence.
Two two-year projects were undertaken, one in England/Wales and one in Scotland. These projects are now completed. Outcomes have provided some workable models for recruiting, advising and assessing RPL candidates and a valuable set of resource materials including an Open Learning package for operational staff. The institutions involved have had to work hard to create the infrastructure to support the RPL service, to ensure its integration with other national developments and to facilitate its further development.
Early findings of the current UK RPL program are encouraging. It appears that RPL can function efficiently as an integral part of services for adults, at least within the limited vocational areas that have been explored. Key technical issues have been addressed including issues surrounding the legality, authenticity, currency and adequacy of the evidence.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. We have yet to establish an institutional model. We have yet to examine the real costs of operation. The cost of developing and introducing RPL are high. The initial program focused on only a few occupational areas – will RPL be feasible in other occupational areas? Will the demographic change result in a huge demand for this service as an integral part of wider access to assessment? Will the required infrastructure be in place to facilitate a national implementation?
The introduction of new NVQs and a credit accumulation system takes the UK trend firmly towards a framework in which individualized assessment becomes the norm; where assessment on demand is available through a national network of assessment centers. The role of colleges and training providers is changing rapidly as more flexibility is built into the framework for education and training.
National Economic Objectives
The TA’s role is to promote a competitive and efficient labor market conducive to the growth of employment and the reduction of unemployment. To meet this objective, two key challenges must be addressed – the ‘skills gap’ and imminent demographic change. Two questions are:
How can we ensure that our education and training system produces people with the right skills at the right time?
Which way can we make the most efficient use of an experienced adult market and encourage adults to develop the new skills which are needed?
The first question must be addressed by those responsible for basic and vocational education and training. Current efforts to reform the educational system and provide a more flexible vocational training infrastructure and delivery system are attempting to provide an effective response.
RPL is of particular relevance to the second question. The UK delivery system has not traditionally provided services for adults – a change of attitude is required when adults form a larger percentage of the student population. That change of attitude must lead to immense changes in the infrastructure with the emphasis being on an individualized approach. Changes must be made, not only to accommodate more flexibility within the delivery of courses but also to facilitate wider access to assessment. Adults are reluctant to repeat learning experiences and require recognition of existing skills. This requirement also seems sensible regarding national objectives – would not a nation be making more efficient use of its resources if it were able to make full use of, and build upon the skills and knowledge which currently exist?