The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) has issued a comprehensive 28-page report entitled ‘Licence-Linked Qualifications Used in the Private Security Industry’ outlining the actions that the qualifications Regulator for England and Wales has taken in order to address concerns around potential malpractice in the private security industry.
Ofqual has examined how awarding organisations are managing risks in the delivery of security industry qualifications covering a range of occupations, including door supervision and close protection. As a consequence, the Regulator found that some awarding organisations had inadequate arrangements in place with the training providers (also called ‘centres’) delivering their qualifications.
These deficiencies are thought to increase the risk of malpractice, and there’s evidence to suggest assessment malpractice occurring in some centres.
In response, the Regulator has required awarding organisations offering security industry qualifications to tackle inadequate centre controls where they’ve been identified. Awarding organisations have also been required to address any weaknesses found in their approaches towards the design, delivery and awarding of qualifications that threaten future non-compliance with the Regulator’s stated rules.
Sally Collier, chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “The public rightly expects that those who gain qualifications to work in the private security industry have been rigorously trained and assessed. Our thorough review of this sector has given us a number of causes for concern. The actions we’ve taken re-emphasise the responsibilities awarding organisations have when it comes to qualifications delivery. Those responsibilities should never be underestimated, and are especially important where the risks of failure could expose members of the public to potential harm.”
In response to the Ofqual report (which can be read in full here), Alan Clamp (CEO of the Security Industry Authority) commented: “We welcome this report. It’s good to see Ofqual taking a close look at awarding bodies offering vocational qualifications. After a lengthy investigation, Ofqual has identified some areas for improvement for awarding bodies and will be following these up with further checks later this year. As noted in the report, the SIA already imposes a number of additional requirements on awarding bodies over and above those required by Ofqual. We will work closely with Ofqual to see if these can be further improved in order to provide additional reassurances about qualifications in this sector.”
Referencing the security sector’s Regulator, the Ofqual report states: “The SIA will also be doing a number of things to improve the quality of delivery of training in the sector. It will work with the awarding organisations in the development of a quality improvement plan for the sector that will address the concerns outlined in this report. The SIA is already changing its arrangements with awarding organisations to include more quality requirements. In addition, the SIA will ensure better sharing of data and provide more resource to support malpractice investigations.”
In 2015, seven awarding organisations were actively offering licence-linked security qualifications. These awarding organisations awarded 90,122 qualifications and received 64 allegations of malpractice. Approval was withdrawn from 18 centres as a result of malpractice.
Ofqual-regulated awarding body Industry Qualifications (IQ) recently called upon Ofqual to establish an Expert Panel designed to focus on the subject of qualifications fraud. In a statement issued on its website on Monday 23 January, IQ said: “In responding to the call for action from IQ, those with the authority to take action have stated that it’s the responsibility of awarding organisations to deploy robust procedures. IQ acknowledges and accepts this responsibility in full and without qualification. However, the issue of fraud can only be tackled effectively if the wider system is sufficiently focused and tuned to identify and reduce opportunities for fraud. This is beyond the capability of any single awarding organisation, irrespective of how strong their procedures may be. A system that doesn’t prosecute fraud and allows those involved in wrongdoing to continue needs review.”
Series of proposals
IQ’s CEO Raymond Clarke has written to Ofqual’s CEO with a series of proposals that could help strengthen the current system. In Clarke’s opinion, these ideas could indeed contribute towards an opening agenda for a dedicated Expert Panel.
There are six specific areas in which IQ believes action could and, indeed, should be taken. These are as follows:
The need for independent research should be considered in order to define the scale and nature of qualifications fraud and to verify or dismiss connections with organised crime. Consideration should also be given to geographic spikes in fraud, which some of those responding to the recent press coverage believe (rightly or wrongly) to exist
(2) Conditions of recognition
IQ feels that the conditions of recognition should be reviewed to ensure that they’re absolutely appropriate when dealing with fraud. Differentiating between fraud and malpractice would help. The way in which evidence is handled in particular could be very different when dealing with fraud, while any failure to handle evidence correctly could impact detrimentally on any subsequent legal action. Consideration should also be given as to whether the conditions strike the correct balance between learner (ie certificate holder) interests and the interests of the public in safety-critical industries
(3) Guidance on fraud
IQ believes that guidance needs to be developed to assist awarding organisations when confronted with fraud. There’s a concern that fraud is under-reported due to the costs and difficulties in securing evidence, and the consequent risks in making allegations against individuals. Consideration should be given to training and the development of guidance on the issue, which might include indicators evident with fraud, expectations in relation to reporting, guidance on the handling of evidence and when and how to involve the police, etc. In any event, awarding bodies should never feel that the consequences of reporting fraud will lead to anything other than a sympathetic and supportive response from the Regulator
(4) Protocols with the police
IQ’s own experience is that it’s very difficult to find a suitable point of contact with the police, while the understanding of the issues and, indeed, the way in which qualifications work is extremely poor. The prosecution of examination fraud would be greatly enhanced through the establishment of effective protocols and the development of an understanding within an identifiable part of the police service of the issues involved
(5) Record keeping and dissemination
The quality of information provided on 8.7 declarations (ie notification of malpractice or maladministration provided to Ofqual), the accuracy of the records held by Ofqual and the lack of real-time access to those records for awarding organisations are all significant issues that, according to IQ, should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The lack of available intelligence on those who’ve previously been involved in qualification fraud or malpractice only encourages the perpetuation of the problem
(6) Opportunities for those involved in fraud or malpractice to re-enter the sector
Currently, there appears to be no barriers in place to block re-entry to the sector for individuals who have been active in fraud or malpractice. IQ contends that consideration should be given as to whether individuals involved in serious wrongdoing should be allowed to undertake any future role requiring the trust and integrity expected in both examination and assessment procedures