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Review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England

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We are reforming the post-16 system, which at level 3 means improving the quality of both technical and academic qualifications on offer. We want A levels and T Levels to become the qualifications of choice for 16 to 19 year olds studying at level 3 in an education setting. A levels are world renowned, and will be central to the study programmes of most students taking the academic pathway to progress to university.

T Levels are co-designed by employers to ensure students develop the skills required by business and industry. They focus on occupational skills and can help students into skilled employment, higher study or apprenticeships. T Levels are intended to provide new, world class technical education, and we want as many people as possible to benefit from them, just as many thousands of young people on the academic route already benefit from rigorous and well-respected A levels.

We recognise, however, that there will be a need for other qualifications to support the core A level and T Level offer. These will only be funded where they are high quality and have a clear purpose that adds value to that core offer. The government response to the second consultation on post-16 qualifications reform sets out the types of academic and technical qualifications that will be considered for funding alongside A levels and T Levels. The Secretary of State for Education will determine which qualifications at level 3 should be approved for funding. This will follow approval by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) for technical qualifications.

We recognise the significant programme of change that is required to make sure the qualification system is set up to deliver for decades to come, and we value the critical role and expertise of awarding organisations and providers in helping us to achieve this. We will continue to work closely with the education sector throughout implementation of these changes, including the new powers provided by the Skills and Post-16 Education Act.

Scope of the review

All level 3 qualifications which DfE approves for post 16 funding offers (including Advanced Learner Loans) are subject to review, with the exception of A levels, AS levels and T Levels, as well as the following qualifications that we have already confirmed will continue to be funded:

  • Extended Project qualifications
  • Advanced Extension Awards
  • Performing Arts Graded Examinations
  • Core Maths qualifications
  • The International Baccalaureate Diploma
  • Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas

Apprenticeships, traineeships, and the 14 to 16 offer (Key Stage 4) are also not in scope
of the review.

The Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) have responsibility for adult education for their residents, including determining which qualifications should be funded for adult residents. They must also fund the statutory entitlement2.

Post-16 qualifications at level 3 – overview of changes

  • The changes to level 3 qualifications involve three main stages:
  • Withdrawal of funding from qualifications that have low or no enrolments, which
    has already been announced. Qualifications with no enrolments have already had
    funding approval withdrawn; those with low and no enrolments will do so on 1
    August 2022.
  • Technical qualifications that overlap with T Levels will have funding approval
    withdrawn for 16 to 19 year olds (as explained in the section about overlap with T
    Levels from page 10);
  • New criteria for academic and technical qualifications will be introduced that will
    need to be met in order for qualifications to be approved for funding in future:
  1. Academic qualifications will need to meet new criteria set by DfE.
  2. Technical qualifications will need to be approved against new criteria set by
    IfATE.

Statutory entitlements include a first level 2 and/or 3 qualification for adults aged 19 to 23, to English and maths up to level 2, and essential digital skills for adults up to level 1.

Qualifications which are in scope for the review and which have not met either the new
academic or technical criteria referenced above will not be approved by DfE for funding in
future.

All qualifications will need to comply with regulations set by Ofqual in order to be eligible
for funding approval, and Ofqual will provide feedback into the approval process. Ofqual has recently consulted on its proposed regulatory approach to academic and technical qualifications and will confirm this in summer 2022. This will be followed by a second consultation on the detail of any conditions, requirements or guidance against which it will regulate approved level 3 qualifications in the future landscape. You can read about its proposals in the Ofqual consultation “Regulating academic and technical qualifications at level 3” (now closed).

IfATE will consult in summer 2022 on their approach to approving technical qualifications. The details of the process for approving academic and technical qualifications will be published in autumn 2022. This will include DfE’s requirements for funding approval; IfATE’s criteria for its approval of technical qualifications (subject to consultation); and Ofqual’s conditions and guidance for academic and technical qualifications (again, subject to consultation). This is discussed further in the section about the approval process from page 13, and a high-level representation of the process is provided at Appendix E.

Post-16 qualifications at level 2 and below

Alongside our reforms to level 3 qualifications, we want to improve post-16 study at level 2 and below. Getting level 2 and below right is key to making sure that students have clear lines of sight to level 3 qualifications, apprenticeships, traineeships, and for some, directly into employment. The review is considering all funded qualifications with the exception of GCSEs, Essential Digital Skills qualifications and all three subject areas of Functional Skills (English, maths and digital). Our consultation on our level 2 and below proposals closed on 27 April and we will publish our response later this year.

Changes to the level 3 academic and technical qualifications landscape

The government’s vision is to transform the academic and technical qualification landscape and expand opportunity right across the country, so that more people can get the skills they need to get good jobs. This means improving the overall offer so that all qualifications that are available alongside A levels and T Levels are high quality. We need to ensure that approved qualifications are relevant, necessary and will lead to positive outcomes for all types of students.

Through the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, the government has legislated to extend and refine the existing statutory framework for the approval and regulation of technical education qualifications. The legislation allows IfATE to approve a broader range of technical education qualifications than it could previously. This supports reforms set out in the post-16 qualifications review and in the Skills for Jobs white paper, ensuring that the majority of technical education is linked to employer-led standards by 2030. The legislation also embeds the collaborative relationship between IfATE and Ofqual for the
approval and regulation of technical education qualifications. This will reinforce the longterm stability of the technical education qualification regulatory framework.

Future funding of academic qualifications

In the future, A levels will form the core of level 3 academic study programmes for most students. This is because we believe A levels provide the best preparation for HE in most academic subject areas, and provide access to the best opportunities at the broadest range of HE providers. Too many current qualifications lead to students’ options for HE progression being narrowed, both in terms of the choice of subjects available to them and the type of provider. However, we will also fund two main types of academic qualification in addition to A levels, playing a similar role to current Applied General qualifications provided they meet new quality criteria. These will complement the A level offer,
supporting students to progress to HE in government priority subjects and in areas less well-served by A levels and T Levels.

The first type of qualification will be small academic qualifications (typically no larger than one A level) that should typically be taken alongside A levels. These qualifications will be funded in government priority subjects (such as STEM subjects) and in areas where an A level is not available (such as health and social care).

The second type of qualification will be large academic qualifications (equivalent in size to three A levels) that should typically be taken as an alternative programme to A levels. These qualifications will be funded in subject areas that are less well-served by A levels and where there is no T Level3, such as creative and performing arts. We expect these qualifications will have a strong practical focus, offering breadth and depth that is valued at HE.

To be approved for funding these academic qualifications will need to meet new criteria, ensuring they are necessary alongside A levels and will support progression to HE. We will set out further detail about the tests to be applied for academic qualifications when we publish the approval criteria.

We have not pre-judged which academic subject areas will be funded in future, but there are a number of areas where we see a clear role for qualifications alongside A levels and T Levels. As highlighted above, these include STEM, health and social care, and performing and creative arts subjects. It is important to note that large academic qualifications will not be funded in subject areas where there is a T Level. The final range of subject areas funded in future will depend on the outcome of the new approvals process, including an assessment of the need for a particular qualification and its quality against the new approval criteria. We intend to publish further detail about the approval criteria for academic qualifications in the autumn.

Future funding of academic qualifications for adults

Adults who want to progress into further study will have access to the same range of level 3 academic qualifications as 16 to 19 year olds. This is because these qualifications offer the best preparation to progress onto and successfully complete high quality HE courses.

This includes Access to HE Diplomas to support adults who do not have traditional qualifications to progress into HE.

Future funding of technical qualifications

The government’s objective is to deliver a high quality and stable technical education system, based on occupational standards that are developed by employers. This will ensure that the skills needs of business and industry are met, provide clear progression pathways and deliver the outcomes learners need to move in to skilled jobs or further technical training. This will be delivered through technical qualifications approved by IfATE, with extensive employer involvement in the process. T Levels will form the core of the technical offer at level 3, and will cover most occupations that a 16 to 19 year old might train for at level 3, but they won’t cover everything.

We will fund a range of other level 3 technical qualifications alongside T Levels at 16-19 These include:

  • Qualifications that support entry into technical occupations not covered by a T
    Level. These will be designed around the knowledge, skills and behaviours
    statements that are set out in one of IfATE’s employer-led occupational standards,
    and will focus on building occupational competence in a particular occupation.
  • Specialist qualifications that build on and go beyond an occupational standard,
    enabling students to develop more specialist skills and knowledge than could be
    acquired through a T Level or occupational entry qualification alone.
    Future funding of technical qualifications for adults
    The technical qualifications listed in the previous section will all also be funded for adults
    and, in addition, we will fund some further qualifications for adults only:
  • Qualifications that support entry into technical occupations that are covered by T
    Levels;
  • Qualifications that enable entry into occupations without employer-led standards,
    where there is employer demand but where it may not be appropriate to create an
    occupational standard.
  • Qualifications that focus on a range of cross-sectoral skills that are valuable in
    their own right and transferrable across multiple occupations.
    These are set out in more detail in Appendix C (for 16 to 19 year olds) and Appendix D
    (for adults).

Qualifications that overlap with T Levels

In future, large qualifications that overlap with T Levels will no longer attract funding for 16 to 19 year olds.

The first stage currently underway is to remove funding approval from technical qualifications that overlap with T Levels. We have applied three tests to determine overlap:

  • Is it a technical qualification, in that it primarily aims to support entry to
    employment in a specific occupational area(s)?
  • Are the outcomes that must be attained by a person taking the qualification similar
    to those set out in an occupational standard covered by a T Level?
  • Does the qualification aim to support entry to the same occupation(s) as a T
    Level?

A provisional list of qualifications that have been assessed as overlapping with waves 1 and 2 T Levels was published on11 May 2022. These qualifications will no longer be funded for 16 to 19 year olds for new starts after 1 August 2024, unless they are subject to a successful appeal by the awarding organisation. To ensure we have the best available evidence when considering appeals, organisations such as employers, HEIs, and other training providers are able to support awarding organisations’ appeals. More information on the appeals process can be found in the appeals guidance. Students part way through studying for a qualification that is having funding withdrawn will continue to be funded and will be able to complete their course.

Following this, we will also review qualifications in the same routes as T Levels in waves 3 and 4. Technical qualifications that overlap with the T Levels in these waves will have funding approval removed for 16 to 19 year old new starts from 1 August 2025. The overlap process will not affect funding for adult learners.

However these qualifications will be subject to the approval processes for academic and technical
qualifications described elsewhere in this document.

Where new T Levels are introduced in future, qualifications which overlap with them would have funding approval removed – in the same way as for existing T Levels. We will set out the arrangements for withdrawing funding approval from overlapping qualifications, alongside the details of the process for approving academic and technical qualifications, in autumn 2022.

Changes to timeline for reform of level 3 qualifications

The Secretary of State committed in November 2021 to allow an extra year before our reforms to Level 3 qualifications are implemented. In addition, we are bringing the digital pathfinder into the first full cycle of approvals. These changes will allow us to continue to work hard to support the growth of T Levels and gives more notice to providers, awarding organisations, employers, students and parents so that everyone can prepare for the changes.

Our reform timeline is linked to the roll out of T Levels and a table of the T Level waves and when they commence teaching is shown below.

Wave and year of first teach T Levels being launched:

Wave 1 (2020)

  • Design, surveying and planning for construction
  • Digital production, design and development
  • Education and childcare

Wave 2 (2021)

  • Building services engineering for construction
  • Digital business services
  • Digital support and services
  • Health
  • Healthcare science
  • Onsite construction
  • Science

Wave 3 (2022)

  • Accounting
  • Design and development for engineering and manufacturing
  • Engineering, manufacturing, processing and control
  • Finance
  • Maintenance, installation and repair for engineering and
    manufacturing
  • Management and administration

Wave 4 (2023)

  • Animal care and management
  • Agriculture, land management and production
  • Catering
  • Craft and design
  • Hair, beauty and aesthetics
  • Legal services
  • Media, broadcast and production

These changes mean that we will remove 16-19 funding approval for qualifications that overlap with waves 1 and 2 T Levels from academic year (AY) 2024/25. The provisional list of qualifications that overlap with wave 1 and 2 T Levels was published on 11 May 2022, and the final list will be published in September. We will remove 16-19 funding approval from qualifications that overlap with wave 3 and 4 T Levels from 1 August 2025.

The timeline for the introduction of reformed technical and academic qualifications for 16- 19 and adults will also move back one year. The first reformed technical and academic qualifications will be approved in July 2024 for qualifications aligned to wave 1, 2 and Engineering and Manufacturing (from wave 3). These newly-approved qualifications will be taught from AY 2025/26, and at that point we will remove funding approval from qualifications aligned to these routes that have not been approved.

For wave 3 and 4 (excluding Engineering and Manufacturing), qualifications will be approved in July 2025. Approved qualifications will be taught from AY 2026/27. Further opportunities will be available to submit qualifications in future years. For example, a qualification aligned to wave 1 can first seek approval for 2024, but should also be able to do so in future approval years.

A high-level timeline showing key dates for the reforms is provided in Appendix A. More detailed timelines for the approval of individual qualifications will be released alongside the approvals and funding criteria in autumn 2022.


Sector Response

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive at Federation of Awarding Bodies, said:

“We welcome the Department providing greater clarity to the public on what L3 qualifications it intends to defund as part of the phased roll-out of T Levels. 

“While it is difficult for us to comment on the adverse impact these changes may have on individual qualifications or AOs, the Federation recognises that ministers have shown some flexibility by listening to many of the arguments put forward by the sector in recent times. Not least the call to proceed with more caution; and to ensure that there is a place in the future landscape for L3 qualifications which have a proven track record of getting students into skilled jobs or progression to further and higher education. 

“Our position remains one, however, that we don’t support the argument that in order to make government owned T Levels successful in future, other qualifications that may compete with them should have their recognition in the marketplace automatically withdrawn. That would be to reverse decades of success in post-16 education where the government has always promoted student and provider choice within a mixed-market economy and level regulatory playing field. What government is engaging in is market manipulation.”

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