Last week, Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), wrote to skills minister Gillian Keegan MP, urging the government to address some of the concerns and recommendations of all those involved in further education (FE) – from colleges and training providers, to awarding organisations like City & Guilds.
The government has taken decisive action in a short amount of time as it works to safeguard the nation and our economy in this time of crisis – and has already taken some important steps to protect the FE and skills sector. But the FE and skills system is a complex one – and more support is needed in order for it to maintain the highest possible quality and standards in vocational and technical education, to support learners throughout the months ahead, and to ensure the system recovers.
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From paramedics to plumbers, ports operators to paralegals, FE training, apprenticeships and qualifications are vital to driving quality skills development for the UK economy – which will be more important than ever as we emerge from this crisis. We must work together to protect this vital skills sector, but we will have to be pragmatic and change while doing so, without compromising the quality of skills or competence of our learners.
As Tom highlighted in his letter, the post-16 skills landscape is incredibly complex, made up of a tapestry of state-funded colleges and private training providers, covering a huge array of different specialisms, and offering a diverse range of courses and apprenticeships.
There are a variety of ways to assess and test the ability of learners on these different training pathways. Many vocational-technical qualifications (VTQs), for example, are non-linear or competency-based. And, whilst the government has instructed that teacher estimation should be used to award grades for GCSEs and A levels, this method would be suitable for some, but by no means all, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.
This means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for teaching or assessing vocational-technical qualifications or apprenticeships. Innovation and creative thinking are therefore required if we are to progress as many learners as possible through the system during the current lockdown.
At City & Guilds we have been working hard to support customers who are adapting their delivery to continue developing skilled people – people that the country is going to need once the Covid-19 crisis is over. One of the key priorities for our business during this challenging time is to do what we can to help our customers keep working so that they, in turn, can keep learners progressing. It’s a bit of a moving feast at the moment as we work with the regulators and other stakeholders across various industries, but I have been heartened by how every part of the skills system is working together to get through this crisis as best we can.
For our part, we have given our customers free access to some of our online learning resources to support teaching and learning. We are also working hard to enable some tests to be undertaken online at home within the next two weeks, such as some functional skills and end-point assessments, where appropriate.
For our Technical Awards, Technical Certificates and Tech Levels across both one-year and two-year programmes of study, we are working with Ofqual and other key stakeholders on a proposal to estimate assessment grades combined with quality assurance validation.
However, of course, in some circumstances it may not be practicable to teach and assess people now, and while we continue to work hard to find a way forward for all it is inevitable that some will be deferred to a later date.
When we emerge from the worst of this pandemic, we need to have a thriving skills system in place that is able to support people in skilling and reskilling – helping the country to get back on its feet and grow the economy. And to do this, we need to work together now as a sector and come together with one voice and one purpose.
We must ensure that the whole vocational and technical education supply chain is maintained throughout this difficult period and that learners are looked after now. Together, we can make sure that no one is left behind.
David Phillips is managing director of City & Guilds & ILM