Research and analysis

Fitness for purpose: a means of comparing qualifications: Coles & Matthews (1995)

A report on a project to develop a method of analysing traditional and vocational qualifications. Part of the Dearing Review (1996).


Fitness for purpose: a means of comparing qualifications

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The project was set up to develop and apply a method of analysing different qualifications. The method is to be effective for analysing all qualifications, particularly traditional and vocational qualifications. The methodology is to be developed in generic form so that it can be applied to different subjects, different qualifications and different levels.

The key feature of this project is that it compares the qualifications in terms of their fitness for the purpose of enabling progression into employment, further education or higher education for those who achieve them.


The fitness for purpose measure does provide a new way for comparing qualifications. It provides an independent judgement of the relative value of qualifications and components of qualifications, from the perspective of those who use them in recruitment.

The results of the pilot study provide a constructive perspective of both the GCE and the GNVQ. This can be contrasted with direct comparisons of alternative qualifications which may mislead because the comparison is usually made in terms of deficiencies of one qualification in relation to another.

The methodology allows for judgements to be made about the fitness for purpose of single qualifications. It is not essential for a comparison between qualifications to be made. This means that analyses can be carried out of different qualifications at different times.

Evidence from fitness for purpose analysis could support the development of qualification content, for example:

  1. If NCVQ/SCAA wanted to ensure that the core/mandatory components met the needs of users.
  2. If an awarding body wanted to ensure that optional provision was valued by those who use the qualification in recruitment.

Poor progression from one qualification to another is a serious problem. The fitness for purpose methodology can be applied ‘vertically’. Judgements can be made about how well a qualification builds on those at lower levels and prepares for those at higher levels.

If qualifications are to be developed to fit within a common structure. using common terminology, and to perhaps bring them into a single national framework, the fitness for purpose methodology should be applied at an early stage.

Investigation of the fitness for purpose of qualifications needs to be included in review/scrutiny programmes. This will provide a current view of what is valued by users of qualifications.

Published 15 December 1995