The government has announced plans to remove funding for qualifications that overlap with A levels and T levels to “simplify” the choices for young people.
In the next phase of its reform plan of post-16 qualifications, the government also plans to ensure that "only qualifications that meet a high-quality bar and help students progress into work or further study are approved for funding” and make more qualifications available to adults, including new T levels, so more people can upskill or retrain.
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The plans will be subject to a 12-week consultation process. The government's consultation document says 16- to 19-year-olds who want a classroom-based route to employment "will be able to choose either a T level or high-quality technical qualifications that are necessary for progression into occupational areas where there is no relevant T level".
It adds that additional specialist qualifications would also be available to be studied alongside these for students to build on and enhance their skills.
"To ensure proposals are introduced in a manageable way, we propose reviewing technical qualifications in the routes featuring wave 1 and 2 T levels ready for 2023 and qualifications in the routes featuring wave 3 and 4 T levels ready for 2024. This will involve removing funding from overlapping qualifications and approving qualifications that offer specialist competence or do not overlap with T levels," the document says.
"We also propose to reduce the range of academic qualifications on offer, so students only study qualifications that offer the best preparation to progress on to and successfully complete high-quality HE courses."
In a written statement, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "This consultation focuses on level 3. It sets out proposals for the qualifications we believe are needed alongside T levels and A levels for 16- to 19-year-olds and adults, and how to ensure they meet the consistently high levels of quality that are needed to support all students to fulfil their potential and provide the skills and knowledge employers and higher education institutions need.
"The consultation sets out detailed proposals to streamline the technical offer for 16- to 19-year-olds alongside T levels to ensure that as many young people as possible can benefit from the preparation T levels will provide. For young people choosing academic qualifications, we want only those qualifications that give the best preparation to progress on to, and successfully complete, high-quality HE courses."
The overhaul of qualifications
Last year, the government announced plans to remove funding from qualifications that overlap with T levels and A levels, and only fund qualifications at level 3 and below that are high-quality and lead to good outcomes for students.
In February, more than 5,000 qualifications set to lose government funding were revealed – all either not being taken by anyone or studied by fewer than 100 students. There are more than 12,000 qualifications available at level 3 and below.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Now, more than ever, we must redouble our efforts to support as many people as possible to access high-quality education and training, so they can get ahead and so employers can tap into the talented workforce they need as we build back better from coronavirus.
“The measures we have announced today will ensure that whether a student opts to study A levels, a T level or any other qualification, they can be confident that it will be high-quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training.”
Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: “There is a lot of detail to work through as part of this consultation. We have always said that qualifications are not set in aspic. Awarding organisations work with employers and educationalists all the time to make sure that what we offer is fit for purpose. We’re always open to discontinuing old qualifications that have become obsolete, just as we need to develop new regulated courses to meet the demands of automation and the increasing digitisation of our economy.
“The really disappointing thing about this announcement is yet again it is Whitehall saying that it knows best. Ministers believe they are better placed to second guess the labour market and occupational career pathways than employers, learners and local communities. We will, of course, work with the government constructively. But the big lesson from the exams fiasco of the summer is that a top-down, engineered view of qualifications and what is best for learners rarely corresponds with what is actually happening or needed on the ground.”
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: "Sixth-form colleges have always believed that there is a place for both T levels and applied generals. These two qualification types can very happily and usefully coexist. To remove too many [applied general qualifications (AGQs)] would significantly impoverish the curriculum, damage social mobility, and do nothing to reduce the skills gap.
“It is imperative that all students in every community have the opportunity to study for the right blend of qualifications to ensure they can succeed in their career aspirations. We look forward to seeing the full proposals from the government and will be responding to the consultation to make the case for retaining high-quality, reformed level 3 AGQs.”
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “It’s clear from today’s detailed document that the DfE has listened to the concerns we raised in the first consultation. We have worked constructively with officials and I think they have shown in this document that they understand the complexities in this and want, like us, to move on from the headline that there are ‘simply too many qualifications’.
"The proposals will need time to consider fully, but our initial reaction is that the proposals are proportionate and helpful. We fully support the need to make things simpler, but we also want to make sure that they work well, and that is sometimes a difficult balance to get right. We will consult our members, work with officials and respond fully when we have had time to consider the full proposals and the implications.”