From education to employment

Plans to stop funding qualifications not providing the same high-quality education as new T Levels


Plans to stop funding qualifications that do not provide the same high-quality education as new T Levels and world-class A Levels have been published today (19 March) by Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

The move is the latest step in the Government’s drive to boost the quality of education and training available to young people post-16, which includes the introduction of new T Levels from 2020 – the technical equivalent to A Levels – and more high-quality apprenticeship opportunities. 

A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships will be the gold standard option for young people after they take their GCSEs, but if a student chooses another qualification the Government wants to make sure they are as high-quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training.

If a 16-year-old wants to study history, they know they can take an History A Level which is understood and trusted by parents, universities and employers. But if a student wants to study an engineering qualification after GCSEs there are over 200 different options to choose from – leaving them at a loss as to which ones will give them the best chance of getting the skills they need and leaving employers with no clue as to which qualifications they should be looking for.

To help streamline and boost the quality of education on offer, Mr Hinds has launched a consultation reviewing qualifications at level 3 and below – excluding A Levels and GCSEs – such as Applied General Qualifications, Tech Levels and Technical Certificates.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

“We have made huge progress to boost the quality of education and training on offer for young people. From 2020 we will start to roll out new T Levels which will offer young people high-quality technical courses alongside our world class A Levels. These will be the gold standard choice for young people after they take their GCSEs.

“But we also want to make sure that all options available to students are high-quality and give them the skills they need to get a great job, go on to further education or training, and employers can be confident they can access the workforce they need for the future.

“We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes post 16. But we can improve the quality of the options out there and by raising quality, more students and parents will trust these routes.”

In the first part of a two-stage consultation, the government is consulting on:

  • Only providing public funding for qualifications that meet key criteria on quality, purpose, necessity and progression
  • Not providing public funding for qualifications for 16 to 19 year olds that overlap with T Levels or A Levels

Analysis published by the Department for Education today has highlighted a confusing landscape of over 12,000 courses on offer to young people at level 3 and below, with multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available – many of which are poor quality and offering little value to students or employers.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

“Young people need clear, high-quality and easy to understand options at 16 – whether that’s A-levels, new T-levels, or doing an apprenticeship. Each route is valued by employers, but it can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference between the thousands of qualifications and different grading systems out there.

“The Government is absolutely right to address this by giving employers a part in shaping the reforms, ensuring qualifications relate to the modern world and give young people the skills they need to succeed.”

catherine sezen 100x100Catherine Sezen, Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges, said:

“We welcome today’s announcement regarding phase one of the review of qualifications at Level 3 and below.  It is crucial that there are study programmes and qualifications which meet the needs of all students as well as those of business and the economy. The review kick starts this important conversation. AoC will be working with member colleges over the next three months to ensure a comprehensive response to the consultation.’’

Ian Pretty Dec 2018 100x100Ian Pretty, CEO at Collab Group, said:

“Collab Group is supportive of the Education Secretary’s proposals to consult on qualifications at level three and below. We are awaiting the introduction of new T levels at level three, and have seen a review into qualifications at levels 4-5, but qualifications at lower levels are equally important.

“Our education system needs to enable seamless progression, but there are plenty of existing qualifications which are not well regarded by learners, their parents or employers and do not adequately equip young people with the skills they need to progress.

“Equally, where existing qualifications – like some applied generals – do command the respect of employers and learners, they should still form a part of the qualifications eco-system. Collab Group is supportive of the introduction of T-levels, but we should look to retain existing qualifications at level three where there seems compelling evidence to do so.”

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute, said:

“The Government is right to review qualifications, including to consider the potential impact of the introduction of T Levels. People and employers need a system that’s as simple as possible and let’s them make informed choices about their futures. However, we also need diversity and to recognise the qualifications that people and employers value today. There should be no presumption of ‘turning off’ funding of existing qualifications that are valued and that make a difference, particularly while T Levels are still under development. Yes to simplicity, no to ‘one size fits all’.

“We also need to look more closely at how people progress from level to another, and how to engage employers and ensure that people have access to high quality careers advice. Qualifications are important, but only in the context of an overall system that provides chances for people to start learning at any level and at any age, with clear ways to progress to higher levels of learning, and support which includes advice and guidance on how to do so.”

tom bewick100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), said: 

“The Federation welcomes the fact that the Department for Education has listened to our request to make this a two-stage consultation exercise. It is important to first test out, against a series of high-level principles, the government’s proposals to reform qualifications below Level 3. We know that there are many tried and tested qualifications that are extremely popular with learners and employers.

“Successful careers have been launched off the back of applied generals, in particular, so we will need to scrutinise the consultation very carefully. What we will be on our guard against is any attempt to artificially manipulate or restrict the post-16 qualifications marketplace in order to give learners and employers the only option of a T-Level, that may or may not be right for the needs of a complex economy.” 

Mark Dawe AELP 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers CEO Mark Dawe said:

“Are T levels and apprenticeships the answer to everything or is there place for something else?  It’s important that the review focuses on the 42% of the school population at 16 who have not achieved a full Level 2, thereby reducing their chances of gaining sustainable employment.  For a large proportion of school leavers, a single leap to Level 3 is impossible and recognition of achievement at Level 2 is therefore vital for motivation and progression. 

“One of the key statistics I want to see is progression – not to further learning, not to university, but to ultimately jobs.  If someone gets a Level 3 at college which allows them to go to a, and I quote Damian Hinds, ‘bums on seats’ university, but then actually the job they end up with is not a graduate job, what was the point?  Then the question is could they have got that job at 16 or 18 and actually been better prepared for work e.g. with an apprenticeship, or maybe the level 3 qualification is actually suitable for stepping into work.   

“All this requires greater support for Level 2 skills provision to bolster the economy, workforce productivity and social mobility.  We need to review and correct Level 2 apprenticeship framework funding rates which have been reduced without an equivalent replacement standard approved and in place for delivering apprenticeships, and the government should urgently introduce equal funding for the learning of Functional Skills for applied English and maths at the workplace.”

In 2011, the Government asked Professor Alison Wolf to carry out a review of vocational education for 14- to 19-year-olds in this country to support more young people into jobs or into higher level education and training.  Following this, in 2015 the Government also commissioned Lord Sainsbury to carry out an independent review and make recommendations on how to improve the quality of technical education. Both reviews led to improvements in the system, including the development of new, tougher criteria for qualifications included in performance tables and the introduction of new gold standard T Levels from 2020.

The Government announced that it would carry out a review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in May 2017 as part of its response to the T Level consultation. 

The review launched today will build on the progress made so far to deliver the vision set out by Professor Wolf and Lord Sainsbury.

Lord Sainsbury said:

“I am very pleased that this review will shine a spotlight on any current qualifications that exist that do not best serve our young people or their future employers.

“The key priority for the Independent Panel on Technical Education, which I chaired, was to raise the quality of technical education to that of academic education in this country, and we strongly recommended that public subsidy should be withdrawn from college-based technical education that didn’t set young people on the best possible path to employment or further learning. 

“If we are going to ask our young people to work hard to get qualifications, we must make sure that those qualifications deliver real benefits to them.”

The Government reformed GCSEs and A Levels to make them more rigorous and put them on a par with high performing countries, so they better prepare pupils for further study and employment.

The response to the first consultation will be published alongside the launch the second consultation later in the year. It will set out more detailed proposals for change, including the criteria that will be used to determine whether a qualification will be approved for public funding. 

The 12 week consultation will set out proposals for developing a streamlined and simplified qualifications landscape. It will invite views on the principles of quality, purpose, necessity and progression of all future post-16 qualifications.

The Wolf and Sainsbury Reviews identified that too many qualifications at level 3 and below were poor quality and poorly understood, weakening their currency and value for individuals, employers and the economy as whole. The review of qualifications at level 3 and below is part of the government’s wider plans to drive up standards and improve the quality of technical education and training.

Level 3 qualifications are mostly taken by students aged 16 to 19, but are also taken by older students. They follow on from key stage 4 qualifications such as GCSEs and Technical Awards.  Examples of level 3 qualifications are: A Levels, Applied General Qualifications and Tech Levels. Figures are taken from the ESFA list of qualifications available for funding 16 to 19 as of July 2018.

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