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McDonalds will soon be able to award A-level equivalent qualifications. Food for thought in the dumbing-down debate...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The fast food giant is one of three companies – along with Network Rail and Flybe – who will be given ‘awarding body’ status under a new government scheme announced today, which will allow them to award academic qualifications. Could it be that the McGCSE will further its campaign to consign the ‘McJob’ to the annals of history?

The McDonalds training course will teach its staff how to run one of its restaurants, with modules in finance, hygiene and HR. Those who pass will receive a Level 3 certificate in basic shift management – equivalent to an A-level. The other two have even more scope – Flybe will be able to award degree-style Level 4 diplomas, and Network Rail can go all the way up to Level 8, which is PhD equivalent (presumably that one will be about getting trains to run on time).

It’s the latest government wheeze to try and improve the skills of the British workforce (and hence the UK’s competitiveness), one of Gordon Brown’s current favourite topics. And the CBI certainly approves: deputy director-general John Cridland said it was ‘a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills and competencies employers and employees need.’ His view is that more formal recognition of in-house training will encourage businesses to invest more in skills – which is good for all concerned.

Of course, it’s unlike to go down well with those who think our education system is getting dumber and dumber.  If you’ve spent two years sweating through Shakespeare and Chaucer, you might well feel slightly aggrieved to learn that your mate down at the local McDonalds has got an equivalent qualification for learning how to make a mean Big Mac. And as some cynics have pointed out, it’s debatable whether these qualifications really will be recognised by other employers.

The problem, it seems to us, is not with the new qualifications per se. Encouraging employers to invest in training has to be a good thing, and it’s not as though they’re going to supplant academic qualifications – Oxford and Cambridge aren’t likely to see a slump in applications because everyone’s off applying to Flybe instead.

So why this constant obsession with equivalency? It’s nonsensical to compare work-based training to an academic qualification, and attempting to do so is just asking for trouble. Let’s give the McGCSE a chance...

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