From education to employment

Reforming Post-16 Education

Simon Ashworth, Director of Policy, Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) 

The recent publication of the Education Select Committee’s report into reform of post-16 education deserves careful consideration. In this article, Simon Ashworth sets out his thoughts on the report, and how post-16 education can be improved.

We recently saw the Education Select Committee (ESC) publish its report into reform of post-16 education. The ESC examined how effectively post-16, level 3 education and qualifications (such as A Levels, T Levels, BTECs and apprenticeships) prepare young people for the world of work. The Committee also considered the Government’s proposals for reform in this area. The result is a very well thought out report that deserves careful consideration.

It’s too soon for T Levels to fully replace Applied General Qualifications

A huge part of the government’s plans to deliver better technical education pathways has been the introduction of T Levels, so that post-16 learners can study towards an occupational specialism. The report notes our concern that T Levels only offer the skills required to start work, not those required to be occupationally competent – which is what an apprenticeship requires.

The ESC’s view that we have yet to find the right balance between rigour and accessibility is important to recognise – and act on. Given the jury is still out on whether T Levels will prove to be a success, is this really the time to be removing funding from a range of Applied General Qualifications (AGQs)? Prematurely scrapping AGQs could worsen the already existing skills gap in many areas and 86% of respondents to the Department for Education’s consultation on AGQs disagreed with the proposal to remove funding for qualifications that overlap with T Levels.

Instead, we would agree with the view of the committee’s report that funding for AGQs should only happen once T Levels are a proven success. A prerequisite for that is for businesses to offer sufficient, high-quality industry placements as part of T Level courses – after all that was meant to be the unique selling point of T Levels. Watering that down would in essence mean T Levels would become an elongated version of programme led apprenticeships which would be a huge backward step.


The report looks carefully at the role of apprenticeships within the post-16 landscape and raises some very important points where we would find some common ground. We agree that it is welcome news that UCAS will open up their online portal to ensure people are able to search for, and learn about, apprenticeship options as well as traditional pathways. The fact that UCAS already have 1.5 million registered users means there is strong starting point here too.

We also believe that reversing the long-term decline of apprenticeship numbers at entry level and among young people should be a priority for government. The best skills systems around the world are employer-led, and retaining an all-age, all-level apprenticeship system is vital. Key to increasing apprenticeship starts where they’re needed most will be making it easier for small and medium sized employers (SMEs) to take on an apprentice.

We also need to challenge the bureaucracy and rules involved in taking on an apprentice for employers. On this front we’ve seen some recent moves which will help SMEs. From this April, non-levy paying employers have no longer been limited to a maximum of 10 apprenticeship starts. Every year the cap caused issues for smaller employers, and its removal – after a sustained campaign by AELP – is something that should be celebrated.

This year we have worked closely with the DfE to simplify the funding rules and ensure the rules are published earlier in the year which have been positively received. Simplification is not a one-off hit though and we’ve got plenty more to feed in on this moving forward. For SMEs we think dropping the 5% co-investment is another opportunity to remove barriers to smaller employers. With the non-levy reservation system uncapped and co-investment removed it would also negate the need for levy transfer, so would be multifaceted in its benefit and impact, not just to employers but too training providers too.

There, of course, needs to be enough money in the pot too. The challenge ahead is for the apprenticeship budget to not just be reflective of the growing cost and demand for apprenticeships, but also correlates more closely with the actual amount raised through the apprenticeship levy.

Let’s not forget level 2 and below…

The ESC’s report has given us food for thought on how the post-16 education landscape could be reformed. This has focused mainly on the role of level 3 qualifications but it’s vital we do not forget the role of level 2 and below qualifications. The government have previously announced their intention to remove funding from a whole swathe of qualifications at level 2 and below, and that’s something that will have a serious impact on enrolments.

Following the government’s consultation on this, we undertook a piece of research alongside NOCN and the Skills and Education Group, looking at the importance of qualifications and study both at and below level 2. The report, Access to the Future, showed how vital level 2 and below qualifications are for providing a pipeline to further study.

By Simon Ashworth, AELP’s Director of Policy

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