Design, evaluate, certify and review of qualifications based on learning outcomes
The French-Belgian Service for Jobs and Qualifications (SFMQ) was created in 2009 as part of a broader policy in line with the European initiative set out in the Lisbon Strategy. In September 2010, the Government of the French Community agreed in principle to create a qualifications framework with a ‘double entry’ system, one for education qualifications and one for professional qualifications. These qualifications are organised using eight levels and are consistent with the descriptors of the European Qualifications Framework.
The specific objectives of the SFMQ are to:
- design job profiles based on sectoral demand;
- design training profiles which are described on the basis of job profiles to reinforce the links with the needs of the market;
- provide all education and training providers with a set of common training profiles for initial and continuing VET;
- collaborate with all the relevant stakeholders to enhance the transparency of the system.
Design of qualifications based on learning outcomes
Qualifications are designed using learning outcomes which clearly state what a learner knows, understands and can do within an agreed level of autonomy and complexity. In order to develop a qualification:
- a sector makes a request to the SFMQ for a qualification associated with a certain job. The Chamber of Jobs establishes a commission of experts (including representatives from workers’ and employers’ institutions and the Public Employment Services) to elaborate the job profile. This commission uses ‘job analysis’ to identify the key activities and tasks for each job. The job profile contains a job description, the range of applications, the key activities and tasks and the related sectoral cluster in compliance with the French classification system described in Rome V3;
- once the job profile is ready, the Chamber of Education and Training establishes a commission of experts (Education and training providers together with Public Employment Services) to develop the training profile. The key activities and tasks of the job profile are divided into learning outcomes. The learning outcomes are organised into units to allow for the modularisation of learning. The training profile also includes an evaluation profile with criteria and indicators of performance and the equipment profile.
Evaluation, certification and review of qualifications based on learning outcomes
The competences, expressed as learning outcomes, set out what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completing a learning process. Within the French-Belgian community the term ‘qualification’ is used only for education which qualifies an individual to do a specific job e.g. the diploma of secondary education (CESS) offers a qualification which gives access to a job.
As part of the government’s plan to review qualifying education, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation has established a mechanism to certify units of learning outcomes (CPU) which operate in synergy with the SFMQ.
The SFMQ provides a common framework for all VET providers by identifying the learning outcomes which are necessary and sufficient for a learner to gain a specific certificate. In order to award a certificate, the VET providers must prove to the SFMQ that their training programmes contain all the units of learning outcomes set out in the SFMQ’s training profile. The SFMQ makes proposals for the level of each certificate by comparing the learning outcomes of the certificate with the level descriptors in the Francophone Framework of Certification (CFC).
The qualification framework includes qualifications and certificates which are awarded by organisations in the education sector (e.g. higher education, secondary education etc.) and the vocational training sector (e.g. VET schools and through the validation of competences acquired through non-formal and informal learning). Within this framework, qualifications can be awarded at eight levels using descriptors that have been approved by government, educational bodies and the training management committees. These descriptors are used for all education qualifications and professional certificates. Using learning outcomes, these descriptors define the knowledge and skills that the learner is expected to acquire; the context of their learning programme; and the level of autonomy and responsibility they need to demonstrate[i].
In 2013 the Walloon Region and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation developed a project “Alter+” to ensure that the quality of training is standardised across all the training providers at a local level. The project takes account of the diversity of different contexts and target populations and makes it possible for the SFMQ to evaluate whether each training provider guarantees achievement of the apprenticeship as set out in the training profile. This approach focuses on the ways in which the training provider evaluates its processes and the ways in which it awards certificates based on learning outcomes. Designing this system took a number of meetings as training providers were not using the same vocabulary – it therefore became important to establish common terms, without ambiguity, to ensure there was a shared understanding of the concepts which lay behind the meaning of the words.
Difficulties associated with using the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors
There are some difficulties using the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors to design the structure of qualifications at the system level:
- organisational culture which focuses on control rather than collaboration, emphasises power and the enforcement of procedures
- there is a limited approach to identifying learning outcomes. The approach is based on a job analysis where a specific job is defined by a group of expert workers in terms of the duties and tasks performed by successful workers - but this is only one dimension to developing a curriculum. Occupational analysis, work process analysis, functional analysis and conceptual analysis could be combined to achieve a more comprehensive competence-based profiling system.
To help to overcome these limitations, peer learning would strengthen understanding of how learning outcomes are identified and structured in other countries. In addition there is a need to train the trainers in how best to use competence based human resources management.
What lessons have been learnt
The paradigm of a professional qualification which gives access to a job is outdated. At all levels and in all sectors we are witnessing the growing importance of transversal competences. In the new knowledge economy, human capital will need a much broader range of skills: the age of repetitive and compartmentalised work is over. Future generations will have to be more flexible; be able to adapt to the changing needs of the market; demonstrate a willingness to develop themselves; and take on a culture of lifelong learning.
The job-based approach restricts opportunities to work with VET providers that use other learning strategies. Moreover, it is not compatible with the competence based methodology used by most European countries.
The effectiveness of the process of standardising the qualification systems at the regional and national levels relies on qualifications being designed on the basis of competences. To achieve this there is a need to simplify the profiles and create a better articulation between the different parts of the SFMQ. This will help to strengthen dialogue between the stakeholders and lead to continuous improvement of the qualifications system.
 e.g. see http://www.sfmq.cfwb.be/index.php?id=1435
 The Certification by Units (CPU)’s website (in French) is at http://www.cpu.cfwb.be/
 The Francophone Framework of Certification (CFC). The website is currently under construction and will be available in August 2017.
 The Alter+ Project’s website (in French) is at http://www.offa-oip.be/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Alter-WP3.2-Qualit%C3%A9-dispositifs-%C3%A9valuation-Rapport-de-synth%C3%A8se.pdf