From education to employment

Post-16 qualifications at Level 2 consultation launched – Sector Response

Minister for Skills, Alex Burghart

Post-16 qualifications boosted to help more people to progress

Thousands of qualifications are set to be transformed so that more people can gain the skills employers need and progress into work.

A consultation has been launched today (2 March) seeking views on plans to reform post-16 qualifications at Level 2 and below so everyone has access to high-quality options that will lead to good outcomes whether that is going on to further study or into a job.

Qualifications will be streamlined and strengthened so that young people and adults have a clearer choice of options available to them and can be confident that they will set them on a path to a rewarding career. 

Employers will play a key role by setting standards which will define the core knowledge, skills and behaviors expected for all technical qualifications at Level 2 so they deliver the skilled workforce businesses and the economy need to thrive.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs or disabilities, who are more likely to take these qualifications, will also benefit from higher-quality courses that provide the support they need to fulfil their potential, and help open the door to opportunities to progress.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said:

“We are delivering qualifications designed with employers that give students the skills the economy needs. The consultation we are launching today is the next step in making that change a reality.

“We are already rolling out T Levels and reviewing thousands of technical qualifications to make sure they are fit for purpose. We want to make sure all qualifications are high-quality and help people progress in life and work.”

Thousands of young people and adults’ study for a Level 2, Level 1 and entry level qualification every year in subjects such as construction, healthcare and hair and beauty, often as a bridge to higher level study or to prepare them to enter the workplace.

The current qualifications landscape is confusing with around 8,000 qualifications available at these levels, many of which cover the same or similar subjects.  For example, there are more than 650 building and construction qualifications at these levels, and nearly 560 in health and social care. This can make it difficult for people to identify the right qualifications that will help them to achieve their goals.

Both the Wolf Review and Sainsbury Review of Technical Education also underlined that many students entering the world of work lack the technical knowledge, transferable skills and behaviours required and expected by employers to perform successfully in occupations, despite holding a technical qualification.

The plans announced today will ensure all qualifications meet a high bar before being approved for any public funding and provide the skills employers and individuals need to get ahead.

Sector Response

Tom Bewick, the Federation of Awarding Bodies’ chief executive, said:

“We look forward to engaging in the latest consultation detailing the next stages in qualifications reform at Level 2 and below.

“As we’ve said all along, we share the same aim of the government in ensuring a truly world-class post-16 qualifications and skills system by 2030.

“Our three key tests for these ongoing reforms, therefore, will help focus minds on what is really important in terms of any final decisions about the future of these qualifications that are being made by the Department for Education: i.e. will the reformed system

  1. create more opportunity for people;
  2. reduce bureaucracy; and
  3. ensure that market choice remains a central tenet of the system for post-16 learners in future?

“If the government’s proposals achieve these goals we might be able to look back in 2027 (when the reforms are expected to be fully implemented) and say that over a decade long upheaval in the funding and regulation of qualifications was well worth it.

“If what we see, however, is less opportunity for young people and adults; increases in bureaucracy and student choice undermined by restrictive provider practices, then it would have been yet another lost decade of idealistic intent on skills policy followed by failed delivery.

“The country really can’t afford for that to happen.”

David Hughes, AoC

David Hughes, CEO, AoC said:

“Qualifications at Level 2 and below are vitally important for both young people and adults, so it is good that DfE is reviewing how effectively they support people to progress in learning, in confidence, into work and as citizens.

“Getting this level of learning right is doubly important because these qualifications also form the bedrock of all other higher levels of learning and need to encourage, enable and inspire learners to progress where they want to. We will be working with college leaders throughout the consultation to ensure their voice and that of teachers and students is heard.”

Jane Hickie

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said:

“For many learners, qualifications at level 2 and below are the first rung on the ladder to better education and employment opportunities. These are the qualifications that can have a massive impact on social mobility, supporting the most disadvantaged individuals to develop the essential skills needed to support a successful transition into the labour market.

“Although we wholeheartedly welcome a renewed focus from government on level 2 and below qualifications, we would be vehemently opposed to anything that would reduce participation – particularly among disadvantaged and young learners. AELP will be responding to the consultation on behalf of its members. I would also urge anyone involved in the delivery of level 2 and below qualifications to respond directly.”

Michael Lemin

Michael Lemin, Head of Policy at NCFE commented:

“At NCFE, we place huge value on the importance of Level 2 qualifications in supporting people to progress to further studies or the workplace – and that’s why it’s essential to get the right balance with this. It’s vital that all qualifications on offer (whether they are recognising academic aptitude or technical competence) are of a high quality and equip learners with the tangible skills they need for their next steps. It’s also very important that the qualifications landscape is clear so that learners can easily understand what each type of qualification would mean to them, and the outcomes it could provide.

“But equally, in streamlining these qualifications, we must continue to provide learners with choice so that they can make informed decisions on their next steps. We also must remember that the qualifications on offer should engage, motivate, inspire and appeal to people with different learning styles – education at all levels is about enriching lives as well as preparing for a career.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We welcome the government’s review of skills at level 2 and below. Thousands of students in schools and colleges use these qualifications as stepping stones into employment, apprenticeships and level 3 qualifications. We are looking forward to receiving the views of our members but will be extremely disappointed if the outcome of this consultation follows the path of the recent level 3 review. In that review the education sector came out overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining BTECs, but this has been totally ignored by the government. We hope that this consultation will not have similar pre-ordained outcomes, especially as it is our most disadvantaged students who are likely to fare worse.

“Level 2 qualifications are trusted by students, parents, providers and employers alike and are not easily slotted into the same academic, technical and alternative categories currently being proposed for higher qualifications, including those at level 3.

“We hope that any review will not lose the distinct nature of level 2 qualifications for the third of students who need this vital stepping stone.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“We strongly criticised the Government’s decision to de-fund Applied General Qualifications (AGQs) which include BTECs and Cam Techs at level 3. Scrapping these qualifications will massively impact disadvantaged students who for many years have used these qualifications to progress to higher education and into employment. Pinning a qualification system on a binary choice of only A Levels or the untried and untested T Levels, without that third route of AGQs, is ill-thought out and will result in thousands of students missing out on opportunities to progress and potentially the closure of FE colleges.

“The changes to Level 3 AGQs will also affect progression routes for those young people moving from level 2 into Level 3 vocational qualifications. It is to be hoped that the review of level 2 vocational qualifications is not as calamitous as the review of Level 3 vocational qualifications, which spells disaster for the education sector as a whole in terms of its offer to young people, but particularly to disadvantaged students.”

Neil Sambrook, Director of Faculty for STEAM at Walsall College, said:

“The level two is a critical part of education for some industries and any substantial reform needs to take this into account. They are an excellent opportunity to redress some of the increasingly widening skills gaps, re-engage and re-enthuse adult learners and provide an invaluable stepping stone for those who, for whatever reason, have suffered some disadvantage through previous educational experiences. 

“I hope that through the reform and in lieu of the consultation, some of the flexibilities offered within the current provision, such as unitised learning that widen access and participation to learning, are not lost in the cull. The level two qualification has a firm place in the legitimate educational sphere, in some instances they can be the vocational bedrock and the kickstart to many new careers. The consultation is an opportunity to not only recognise the power of the level two, but to further strengthen and champion the impact it can have on peoples’ lives and the economy as a whole.”

Mark Reynolds, Chief Executive of Mace said:

“Demand for construction training remains largely concentrated on level 1 and 2 qualifications. It is essential that these qualifications continue to be part of clear employer supported pathways that provide the knowledge, skills, and behaviours for learners to gain an apprenticeship or job in the construction industry.

“The post-16 level 2 and below review presents an opportunity to improve employment outcomes for learners who want to join construction. I’d encourage employers of all sizes to engage in the consultation process.”

“The move marks the next step in the government’s transformation of technical education and the post-16 qualifications landscape, which has already seen action taken to streamline and boost the quality of the qualifications available at level 3 (A level equivalent) including rolling out new T Levels, working with employers to boost apprenticeship opportunities and establishing 21 Institutes of Technology across the country.

“As a first step towards streamlining the post-16 qualifications system, in August 2021 the government confirmed that it would remove funding for more than 5,000 qualifications at Level 3 and below, including over 3,000 at Level 2 and below, that had no or low enrolments. Public funding for these qualifications will be removed later this year, making it easier for students to find a high-quality course. “

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