Ailin O’Cathain is the Head of Policy for the Federation of Awarding Bodies

Valued and well understood, vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) prepare learners for the workplace and equip them with relevant technical skills.

These are just some of the positive messages in the results of the recent Ofqual Perceptions of Vocational and Technical Qualifications research and it is important that we all take the time to recognise these results, especially those in government and its agencies as they undertake the development and implementation of policy reforms that directly affect VTQs.

The research was conducted with over 3000 employers, learners and training providers from November 2017 to March 2018 and the results show that 91% of employers value other VTQs, 87% of employers think the purpose of other VTQs are well-understood, 83% of employers think other VTQs prepare learners well for the workplace and 82% believe that VTQs equip learners with relevant technical skills.

The reasons why VTQs are valued include their relevance to work; their ability to equip learners with employability and ‘softer’ skills such as communication, team working and problem solving; and because they are a valuable alternative for learners who do not wish to pursue an academic route.

The research also shows that on average, 51% of large companies offer a pay increase or promotion/improved job status after completion of other VTQs, all or most of the time.

That is an incredibly strong set of results and the Federation believes this reflects the extensive investment our members make into working in partnership with employers to develop and award qualifications that focus on meeting a range of workforce needs.

Functional Skills Qualifications

There is good news too for Functional Skills Qualifications (FSQs) in maths, English and ICT with the research showing that 72% of employers value them.

Amongst the many positive results, some of the most heartening are the results from learners which show overwhelmingly positive support for the value of functional skills qualifications, the appropriateness of the level of skill achieved through FSQs and how well FSQs prepare learners for further study.

We know from working closely with members throughout the recent reform programme that they have an unerring level of commitment to ensuring the validity and quality of the reformed qualifications which will be available for first teaching from September 2019.

End Point Assessment

The research also considered apprenticeship end point assessment (EPA), an area that, so far, over 40 of our members have committed to and made significant investment into developing.

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It was encouraging to see that learners are leading the way in this area with 65% of reporting a very good or good understanding of EPA, even though only 56% of training providers and 18% of employers reported the same level of understanding.

It was clearly noted in the report that lower levels of understanding are unsurprising given that the research was conducted in the early stages of EPA roll out.

Just as it has taken time for the understanding of the GCSE 9-1 grading approach to improve, even with a significant awareness raising campaign to support it, it will undoubtedly take time for understanding of EPA to increase.

FAB 2018 Conference and Awards

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The Federation hosts an annual conference and awards event and this year it will be held in Leicester on 18-19th October.

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, will be in attendance on day 1.

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Whilst it’s important to take on board the messages about EPA and to continue to play a role in supporting improved understanding, it is equally important that we take the time to recognise the many positive messages in the research.

That’s why, at the forthcoming FAB 2018 Conference and Awards later this month we will be highlighting these results, not only to our members, but to the many stakeholders from government and its agencies who will be in attendance, including Anne Milton, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.

The Federation and our members have always known how valued, valuable and valid VTQs are and we hope the results of this research will help other stakeholders to better understand and recognise the positive contribution that VTQs make to the education and skills system in England.

Perhaps these positive research findings will help to quieten the negative voices of those who seem to delight in undermining VTQs at any possible opportunity – let’s hope so!

Ailin O’Cathain is the Head of Policy for the Federation of Awarding Bodies

The Ofqual Perceptions of vocational and technical qualifications research was conducted by Pye Tait Consulting on behalf of Ofqual, between November 2017 and March 2018. It was published on 26 September 2018. The survey covered a range of regulated vocational and technical qualifications available for study in England. The survey reports the views of more than 3,000 employers, learners and training providers.

About the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB): The trade association for vocational assessment and awarding organisations, the Federation has 125 full members, ranging from the large awarding organisations through to smaller, sector specific awarding organisations. Membership includes many chartered institutes and professional bodies. 

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