From education to employment

Drivers of choice for vocational and technical qualifications

Ofqual research on the factors which drive decisions in schools, colleges and training providers over which vocational and technical qualifications to offer.

Vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) form a large share of the qualifications market, yet little data is available about what drives schools, colleges and training providers (also known as centres) to choose certain qualifications over others. Last year, Ofqual commissioned YouGov to survey staff working at a sample of these centres about the factors behind their decisions, and how – or why – they choose particular qualifications for their 16-19 year old students.

Findings from the survey underpin our existing understanding of these issues, showing that schools, colleges and training providers take a broad view and consider a range of factors when deciding which qualifications to offer. These can be categorised broadly as: students’ needs; the capacity or facilities of the educational establishment itself; and the needs of employers.

While all 3 feature in decision-making, the research indicates meeting students’ needs and serving their interests – either directly, or by enhancing their prospects and future employability – is a common priority across educational settings. This shared commitment to students may prompt centres to continue offering courses, even where they are not commercially viable.

The weight different types of educational settings give to other factors varies. Employer-focused drivers were often of lower prominence across the results overall, and were more a point of focus for colleges and training-providers than schools. Furthermore, funding appears to be a more frequent driver of choice in these settings. Compared to colleges and training providers, within schools there is less consensus over which factors are prioritised, suggesting the role of VTQs here is less clear, or that qualifications are offered to meet specific school needs. Across all educational settings, the market appears active, with staff suggesting they regularly review their offer, stop providing a particular qualification or introduce a new one.

Annual Qualifications Market Report

The 2018-2019 Annual Qualifications Market Report (AQMR), also published today, shows:

  • there were 11.7 million certificates awarded in GCSE, AS, A level and vocational and other qualifications available for award in England over the academic year 2018 to 2019 (October 2018 to September 2019)
  • the number of certificates fell by 1% compared to the previous year. This appears to be a slowing of the downward trend seen over the past few years
  • just over half of all certificates awarded this year were in GCSE, AS and A levels. This is very similar to last year
  • the organisations with the largest market shares in these qualifications were AQA (31%), Pearson (21%), City and Guilds (7%) and OCR (7%); the rest of the awarding organisations accounted for 34% market share
  • there were 12.3K available qualifications with certificates in academic year 2018 to 2019, a 4% decrease on the previous year

New qualifications landscape app

To accompany the AQMR, we have launched a new interactive visualisation – an app, showing the landscape for Ofqual regulated qualifications currently available in England. The app allows users, such as learners, schools, colleges and employers, to quickly find out both the number of qualifications available and volume, or certifications, for different groups of qualifications in the last 12 months, and explore the data according to level of qualification, sector, performance table status, and so on.

The easy to use search function helps users answer questions like:

  • how many electrical installation qualifications are currently available?
  • what was the number of certifications for dance qualifications in the last 12 months?
  • how many GCSEs were certificated compared to other qualification types?

Internal assessment in national VTQs

Alongside these outputs we have also published a report on how assessments are conducted in schools and colleges – also known as internal assessment, when assessment judgements are made within the school and college – to assess practical skills and competencies in national VTQs. The report looks specifically at Level 2 and 3 qualifications in construction, hair and beauty, and information technology.

One of the most interesting features of the report is the diverse range and complexity of the VTQ sector, with differences in learners and settings, as well as variation in how qualifications are delivered and the degree of oversight exercised by awarding organisations (AOs). While this could introduce points of vulnerability and inconsistency to the system, these differences are often perceived as strengths, as they afford assessors flexibility to deliver qualifications which engage learners and prepare them to meet the needs of local employers. It is important that internal assessments used in VTQs are the most appropriate for the particular qualification – and indeed, the assessors interviewed spoke highly of the assessments with which they worked for the ‘real world’ preparation they gave to learners.

Ofqual is already taking action to strengthen the controls that awarding organisations have over assessment decisions made by centres on their behalf, but this exploratory work provides useful suggestions for further future activity we may undertake to strengthen internal assessments in VTQs – including, for example, to consider further the variation in support and feedback given to students and its potential implication for standards.

Phil Beach, Ofqual Executive Director for Vocational and Technical Qualifications, said:

It is encouraging to have for the first time research evidence showing learners are at the heart of schools’, colleges’ and training providers’ decisions about the qualifications they offer. It is important these decisions are the right choices for learners, supporting their development and employability – factors we will consider as we progress our research in this area. When making such decisions, both learners and centres need access to detailed information about the range of regulated qualifications available and their value to employers.

Our new app is designed to be a useful tool for anyone wanting to navigate the landscape for regulated qualifications – whether students exploring their next steps for study or work, employers seeking information about qualifications in their sector or learners looking to advance an interest or hobby.

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