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Reforming our post-16 landscape: An important milestone in the reform of technical education in England

Jenifer Burden MBE, Director of Programmes, The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

This week, the government published the response to its consultation on the review of post-16 qualifications at level 3.

This is an important milestone in the reform of technical education in England, which will ensure that only qualifications that meet a high-quality bar and help individuals progress into work or further study are approved for public funding.

The reforms are being introduced after consultation with the education sector, employers, students and parents and will be phased in from 2023.

HIGH-QUALITY QUALIFICATIONS FOR ALL YOUNG PEOPLE

In the future, at age 16 students will be able to choose either an academic or technical path, both of which offer clear purpose and progression towards future career opportunities. For the academic path, A-level qualifications offer strong preparation for the study of university degrees, and for the technical path, both apprenticeships and T-level qualifications are designed to develop the knowledge and skills needed for skilled employment either immediately or after a period of further training.

The reforms will reduce the number of low-value courses and duplication across the qualifications landscape; however, it is important to note that the new system is not a ‘binary’ approach.

Alongside A-levels and T-levels there will continue to be other qualifications on offer, for example in creative and performing arts. In addition, within the academic path students will be able to follow a programme that mixes a core of A-levels with a smaller, complementary non-A-level qualification component.

As part of this flexibility it is important that students are:

  • offered programmes with combinations of qualifications that lead to good progression opportunities;
  • aware of the range of progression opportunities available to them from both the academic and technical paths, and
  • know how to choose to move between these options as appropriate – for example, students who follow an academic study programme may at age 18 choose to progress to a higher apprenticeship or Higher Technical Qualification.

T-LEVELS

T-level qualifications are being introduced in phases with the first qualifications from the Construction, Digital and Education routes taught from September 2020. These new qualifications are playing a critical role in ensuring that young people will be prepared for a broad range of great careers, with the knowledge and skills that employers need from their future workforce.

We are pleased that DFE is moving forwards with reform, with defunding of qualifications that overlap with T-levels beginning from 2023, following the managed sequence of introduction of T-levels.

All students deserve the opportunity to benefit from these high-quality T-levels as soon as possible, and the strong support government has provided to underpin the implementation of T-levels is enabling all colleges and schools to learn from the experience of earlier T-level institutions as they prepare to introduce their T-level courses. This support is being supplemented by major capital investment in T-level facilities of over £250m so far.

TRANSITION PROGRAMME

For students who are not yet ready to begin a T-level the Transition Programme offers an additional year of study to prepare for their T-level course, ensuring that more young people can benefit from T-levels.

This is of particular importance for disadvantaged students, who are currently more likely just to be enrolled on lower value qualifications. In addition, alongside A-levels and T-levels at level 3, government is consulting on how qualifications at level 2 and below can also be reformed to provide good outcomes for students for whom these programmes are the appropriate choice at age 16.

QUALIFICATIONS THAT MEET EMPLOYERS’ NEEDS

Apprenticeships, T-levels and Higher Technical Qualifications are already aligned with employer-defined occupational standards. This puts employers at the heart of our technical education system.

Other technical qualifications on offer will now be reformed to ensure that they also align to these employer-defined standards, so that individuals and employers can be sure that all our technical qualifications are delivering the knowledge and skills they need.

Government has responded to calls to ensure the qualifications reform timeline is well-managed by giving more time for the reform of qualifications that will sit alongside T-levels and A-levels, with a pathfinder approach beginning initially with digital qualifications.

IMPROVING TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Technical education builds the knowledge and skills that individuals need to enter skilled employment and progress in their careers.

Gatsby supports a number of programmes to improve technical education in England, such as:

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