'Successful, popular qualifications are being removed'

The government's announcement that it will withdraw funding for 163 qualifications at level 3 and below will limit high-quality options, says Ross Anderson

The government's decision to withdraw funding for dozens of courses will limit choice, one awarding body says

Shortly before the election of the new prime minister, the Department for Education announced it would be withdrawing funding for 163 qualifications at level 3 and under. Among these are two UAL Awarding Body qualifications: the level 3 diploma in art and design, and the level 3 extended diploma in art and design. 

The intentions surrounding the government’s announcement looked laudable: ensuring qualifications are “high-quality, are necessary, have a clear purpose, and lead to good outcomes”, and that students and parents trust the options available to them.


News: Funding axed for more than 160 level 3 qualifications

Background:  DfE launches crackdown on post-16 courses

Read more:  Will T levels draw a line in the sand under BTECs?


Poor implementation

But good policy intentions are sometimes thwarted by poor implementation. And in this case, some successful, popular qualifications are being removed from the system – leaving fewer high-quality options for young people, parents and colleges.  

UAL Awarding Body was not the only organisation affected – but the decisions taken are particularly damaging to UK creative education and have a detrimental impact on providers of creative education and their students.  

Working with providers

UAL Awarding Body was established by Europe’s largest specialist art and design university, University of the Arts London in 2007 with the aim of positively influencing pre-degree creative education in the UK. Today we are the biggest provider of art and design qualifications in UK FE, with more than 54,000 students registered and working with almost 200 providers including universities, FE colleges, sixth form colleges and schools including the Brit School, Global Academy, the London Screen Academy and the Fashion Retail Academy. 

The government claims its changes crackdown on “poor quality”, and ensure funded options provide clear pathways into employment or further study. Unfortunately, some of the qualifications being de-funded have great track-records on both accounts.

Contributing to social mobility and addressing recognised diversity issues in the creative industries, the two UAL qualifications that face the axe were designed by academics from specialist arts institutions, including UAL, specifically with the aim of supporting FE students from non-traditional backgrounds into Higher Education. 

These qualifications have been delivering positive outcomes over the last nine years, with approximately 92 per cent of students completing them receiving at least one university offer and 86 per cent of students taking up a university place. 

They are endorsed by specialist arts higher education institutions including University for the Creative Arts, Arts University Bournemouth, Plymouth College of Art, Ravensbourne and Leeds Arts University, who either deliver the qualifications or receive students who have completed them onto their undergraduate courses. 

Grade inflation 

We understand that grade inflation has been an issue for some qualifications, and we support interventions to resolve this. However, UAL’s level 3 diploma and extended diploma in art & design have exhibited negligible grade inflation. Ofqual’s own data confirms that our small increase in Distinction rates of 0.6 per cent over a three year period is in line with expectations for qualifications of this sort, and similar to increases for the A level extended project qualification.  

By contrast, distinction rates for similar qualifications offered by other awarding organisations have increased by as much as 40 per cent over the period. 

Part of the DfE’s rationale for withdrawing funding for the level 3 diploma and extended diploma in art & design qualifications is that they have been replaced by new qualifications which meet performance table criteria.  Whilst it’s true that there are two new UAL Awarding Body level 3 qualifications that receive funding, they are fundamentally different from those which have been defunded in terms of their structure and, crucially, in terms of how they are assessed.  They are not direct replacements and were not intended to perform as such.  

Experts in creative education

The DfE performance table criteria, specifically those relating to external assessment and prescribed content, are problematic for creative subjects.  As experts in creative education, we have made this case to the DfE at every opportunity.  We are frustrated that this has been ignored. 

If the government wants to create a world-class technical education system for 14- to 19-year-olds in England, we are not convinced these reforms will achieve this. 

We hope the DfE’s new ministerial team will adopt a less interventionist approach, and instead draw on the expertise of the awarding sector and Ofqual to deliver the world-class technical education system that our young people need. 

Safeguarding creative arts

Moreover, there is a particular need to safeguard creative arts education at a time when it is already experiencing a stark decline in participation. Intentionally or not, recent national education policy has diminished creative education at every level of the education system from primary age through to undergraduate study. 

UAL is committed to supporting the delivery of high-quality creative education at every level, and we are also working to support primary creative education through our Creative Futures programme. Successfully piloted last year after 18 months of research, this initiative is being expanded this academic year. 

Creative jobs have increased by over 30 per cent in less than a decade. We want to work positively with incoming policymakers on future reforms to ensure a continued supply of talent into what is the UK’s fastest-growing sector, of £101 billion value to the economy.

Ross Anderson is the director of UAL Awarding Body 

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