From education to employment

Review of post-16 qualifications – Next stage of overhaul gets under way

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

The next step in the government’s drive to boost the quality of post-16 qualifications has been announced today (23 October) by Education Secretary @GavinWilliamson. 

  • Detailed measures announced to ensure all post-16 qualifications are fit for purpose and lead to good outcomes for every student
  • New measures will boost the quality of and streamline qualifications so students and employers get the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow
  • Plans will build on the work already underway to transform technical and vocational education and help the country build back better from coronavirus

Last year the government announced plans to remove funding from qualifications that overlap with T levels and A levels, and only fund qualifications at level 3 and below that are high quality and lead to good outcomes for students.

Today the Education Secretary has confirmed that he is pressing ahead with these vital reforms, setting out detailed measures that will make sure all students no matter where they live and whatever course they choose can be confident it will set them on the path to success.

The new measures, which are subject to a 12 week consultation process, include:

  • Putting employers at the heart of designing and developing all level 3 technical qualifications – this is already happening with apprenticeships, T Levels and new higher technical qualifications, but the government is going furtherso students and employers can be sure they are gaining the skills they need to thrive
  • Removing funding for qualifications that overlap with A levels and T Levels – simplifying choices for young people – while offering funding for high-quality alternatives to A levels, that support students to progress onto specialist Higher Education courses, such as performing arts and sports
  • Ensuring only qualifications that meet a high-quality bar and help students progress into work or further study are approved for funding
  • Making more qualifications available to adults including new T Levels so more people can upskill or retrain

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Now more than everwe must redouble our efforts to support as many people as possible to access high quality education and training, so they can get ahead and so employers can tap into the talented workforce they need as we build back better from coronavirus.

“The measures we have announced today will ensure that whether a student opts to study A levels, a T Level or any other qualification,  they can be confident that it will be high quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training.”

tom bewick 100x100Tom Bewick, CEO, Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), said:

“There is a lot of detail to work through as part of this consultation. We have always said that qualifications are not set in aspic. Awarding organisations work with employers and educationalists all the time to make sure that what we offer is fit for purpose. We’re always open to discontinuing old qualifications that have become obsolete, just as we need to develop new regulated courses to meet the demands of automation and the increasing digitisation of our economy. 

“The really disappointing thing about this announcement is yet again it is Whitehall saying that it knows best. Ministers believe they are better placed to second guess the labour market and occupational career pathways than employers, learners and local communities. We will of course work with the government constructively. But the big lesson from the exams fiasco of the summer is that a top-down engineered view of qualifications and what is best for learners rarely corresponds with what is actually happening or needed on the ground.”

david hughes 100 x100The consultation document published today by the Department for Education takes forward the government’s proposals for Level 3 qualifications for young people and adults. Responding to the Review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England: Second Stage AoC’s Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

“It’s clear from today’s detailed document that the DfE has listened to the concerns we raised in the first consultation. We have worked constructively with officials and I think they have shown in this document that they understand the complexities in this and want, like us, to move on from the headline that there are ‘simply too many qualifications’. The proposals will need time to consider fully, but our initial reaction is that the proposals are proportionate and helpful. We fully support the need to make things simpler, but we also want to make sure that they work well and that is sometimes a difficult balance to get right. We will consult our members, work with officials and respond fully when we have had time to consider the full proposals and the implications.”

John Williams, executive chef at the Ritz London, and vice chair of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said:

“The sheer number of qualifications out there at level 3 and below for catering can be overwhelming.

“It’s hard for many employers, who obviously want to focus on the job at hand, to be confident about which ones are up to the high standards we all expect. And of course, it’s really hard for learners to choose which qualification is likely to be right for them. 

“Government moves to rationalise that and raise quality will be a huge help.”

Dr Graham, Honeyman, Head of International Business Development at Sheffield Forgemasters, said:

“There needs to be a substantial reduction in the number of options available for students to take up further education at level 3 and below. Not only is the situation confusing for students but also for employers and training providers.

“The government is entirely right to consider rationalisation of a number of courses and retain those of the highest quality. Progression from one qualification to another with a clear pathway from entry levels to higher levels would be desirable.”

Paul Edmonds, international and BAFTA hairstylist to film and TV, said:

“The review of level 3 and below qualifications is, I believe, a real positive for both learners and employers. In the hair and beauty industry for example, though there aren’t that many recognised qualifications within hairdressing, there are many in beauty.

“This really makes it hard as an employer to know what quality and standard the qualifications are. Elevating and standardising them will make it so much easier for me as an employer to recognise fewer qualifications and give us a clearer and more focused framework to work from. Learners also will have a clear direction of what route they can take to get into their chosen career, with greater transparency towards the detail of the qualification. 

“We should be putting the needs of both learners and businesses at the forefront of these qualifications, giving a firm foundation to make all our industries dynamic into an ever changing future.”

A confusing landscape

Analysis published by the Department for Education 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 offer little value to students or employers.

As part of the work to boost access to high-quality level 3 qualifications, in July 2019 the government took immediate steps to:

  • remove funding for more than 160 duplicate qualifications from August 2020, ensuring that students take the newer, more rigorous versions
  • stop any new qualification at level 3 and below from getting approval for funding from 2020, to avoid adding to the already confusing and complicated system of over 12,000 qualifications already available at these levels.

This action builds on the work already underway to transform technical and vocational education, including the roll out of new T Levels, working with employers to create more high quality apprenticeship opportunities,  establishing a system of higher technical education and a network of Institutes of Technology, backed by up to £290 million.

This autumn the Education Secretary will publish a White Paper setting out plans to build a world-class further education system – one that unlocks potential, levels up skills and boosts opportunities for people across the country.

A major review of qualifications at Level 3 and below, including Applied General Qualifications, Tech Levels and Technical Certificates, but excluding A levels, T Levels and GCSEs was launched on 19 March 2019.

The first part of a plan two-stage consultation process, which ran for 12 weeks, asked for views 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

The DfE has published its response to the first stage consultation today and launched the second stage consultation inviting views on the detailed proposals announced today. The consultation will run for 12 weeks.

The government will shortly publish a call for evidence inviting views on qualifications at Level 2 and below, including basic skills qualifications (English, maths, ESOL and digital).

The call for evidence will focus on what is working well and what more needs to be done to ensure every student achieves their potential.

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