The government is axing thousands of "low value" adult education courses, such as balloon artistry and self-tanning, to “simplify and streamline” the skills system, it has been announced.
More than 5,000 vocational courses will no longer qualify for funding, freeing up almost £200 million of the adult skills budget to be redirected towards higher-quality and more-relevant qualifications.
The government said that the changes will make the skills system respond more closely to employers’ needs and give learners a clear route to either employment or further training.
But critics said that such courses are often a “re-entry point” that can provide adults with a route back into learning.
Skills minister Matthew Hancock said: “Small qualifications in coaching angling, aerial balloon displays and self-tanning are not a good use of taxpayers’ money or learners’ time.
“There are currently 15,400 regulated qualifications, and, even with the restrictions we have made so far, 11,000 of them are eligible for government funding. This means the system is complicated, bureaucratic and hard to understand, and we need to change that.
“We are determined to make sure that people who work hard to achieve a qualification can be sure that it is recognised as meaningful and valuable to employers and that it makes a real contribution to our long-term economic plan for Britain.”
Professor Alison Wolf, whose 2011 review of vocational education found that many courses do not lead anywhere, said she was “delighted” that the government was starting a “serious reform”.
“The two parts of the system need to fit together, and adult vocational qualifications have until now remained seriously unfit for purpose,” she said.
But David Hughes, chief executive of adult learning body Niace, urged caution.
“For many adults, returning to learning can be an extremely anxious experience, especially for those who didn’t do well at school or for others who have lost confidence through ill-health or redundancy,” he said.
“Often, people find so-called ‘low value’ courses a great way to step back into learning, to help them rebuild their confidence and they then go on to take further courses and qualifications.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) today published its reform plan for vocational qualification based on Professor Wolf’s review, which was published three years ago this month.
As well as removing funding from ‘low value’ courses, the reform programme will make sure qualifications are valued by employers, designed with the best research and are open and accessible.
At the same time Ofqual will be reviewing the way qualifications are regulated.