Nuclear Skills Strategy Group

20 Jul 2021

Review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England (Policy Statement)

1. Background

The Department for Education has published a new Policy Statement outlining plans for funding post-16 L3 qualifications in England. This is part of the implementation of January’s Skills for Jobs White Paper , alongside T Level introduction and reforms at Higher Technical level (Level 2 reforms will come later this year). The Nuclear Standards Advisory Group submitted a response to the consultation in January. Although there have been some minor tweaks to the original proposals, this Policy Statement broadly confirms the previous plan.

2. Purpose of the Policy

The explicit intention is to simplify the funded qualification routes at L3, which usually form the route either to Higher Education or to entering technical occupations. They believe that there are “too many qualifications” and that “quality varies considerably”, leading to confusion and lack of good progress to desired outcomes. They intend to reduce radically the number of fundable qualifications, noting that England’s system seems to have many multiples more than those in successful countries such as Germany and Netherlands.

There is also a continuing emphasis away from university, with the belief that too many young people follow this route when it is not their best option to gaining skilled jobs.

The default routes for progression at 16-19 will be either A Levels or T Levels. Adult technical education (aged 19+) will follow similar lines, with some flexibilities to recognise that older people might not be able to follow the same full-time routes as 16-19 year olds. Qualification routes other than these will only be fundable in certain circumstances.

The Policy does not list specific qualifications to be funded, but confirms the criteria by which qualifications other than T Levels and A Levels might still be fundable.

3. Occupational Standards

The Policy introduces the plan for Apprenticeships, T Levels and other technical qualifications all to be based on Occupational Standards. These will be formed from the current Apprenticeship Standards’ Knowledge Skills & Behaviours elements. When combined with an End Point Assessment, they will constitute an Apprenticeship, whereas combination with an Awarding Organisation’s approved curriculum will form a T Level or other specialist Technical Qualification.

These reforms will be accompanied by reforms of the Occupational Maps held by IfATE, and Interactive Career Maps held by the National Careers Service.

4. Reforms

4.1 Technical qualifications

On the technical qualifications side of the system, the only L3 qualifications eligible for public funding, other than A Levels, T Levels or those in Apprenticeship Standards, will be:
• Qualifications providing occupational competence against employer-led standards not covered by T Levels.
• Additional specialist qualifications that develop more specialist skills and knowledge than could be acquired through a T Level alone, helping to protect the skills supply in more specialist industries and adding value to the T Level offer.
• (For adults) Qualifications that provide occupational competence against employer-led standards that are covered by T Levels, but are smaller than T Levels to allow flexibility for adult learners
• Qualifications that are aligned to occupations outside the current scope of the occupational maps but are in demand by employers
• Qualifications focused on some cross-sectoral skills where they lead to skilled employment, such as management, leadership, and digital

Ofqual and IfATE will review any qualification (new or existing) proposed for funding by Awarding Organisations against these criteria. Where qualifications do not meet these criteria, funding will be withdrawn once the relevant T Level is established, in phases from 2023-25.

The Policy Statement explicitly says that these criteria mean that funding for BTECs and OCR Cambridge Technical qualifications is likely to be withdrawn in most cases.

4.2 Academic Qualifications

A Levels will be the expected route for most people intending to progress to Higher Education. Funding for most qualifications that might overlap with A Levels will be withdrawn, except for the International Baccalaureate and a small range of qualifications that should typically be taken alongside A levels.

Examples given include:
• Small specialist qualifications that are valued by universities as good preparation for technical degrees
• Qualifications that provide students with a breadth/depth of practical or performance skills that are not available from the equivalent A level (such as in performing arts)
• Core maths qualifications for students not doing Maths A Levels but aiming for HE courses that would benefit from some mathematical grounding
• Extended Project qualifications that develop additional skills, outside of A levels, that are valued by HE providers

4.3 Adult learners (19+)

Qualifications for adult learners will follow very similar rules to those for 16-19 year olds, woth some more flexibility to recognise their likely different learning patterns. They will not be expected to take T Levels, although they will be available where suitable, and funding for adult T Levels will be dependent on government Spending Reviews.

5. Likely impact

There is no doubt that these reforms will alter the options available to school leavers and to older people seeking technical education. The government has published detailed responses to the consultation questions, showing that many respondents wanted to keep the flexibility and choice of the current system whereby, for example, a young person might undertake a BTEC alongside an A Level to provide an academic underpinning in a practical subject. However, government believes that this rests on a misunderstanding of the practical skills to be developed in T Levels and the ability to specialise within them as the student progresses. They have also retained flexibility for small specialist qualifications to cover areas not otherwise available – but it is clear that the bar is to be set high for this, given the stated aim to remove most current technical qualifications from public funding.
There were also representations that alternatives to A Levels are sometimes better suited to some students, dependent on interests and learning styles. However, government is relying on evidence that A Levels are the best route to HE. A Levels with small specialist qualifications may still be possible, but A Levels alongside larger qualifications such as BTECs are unlikely.

Government will now be consulting with colleges and training providers on the practicalities of implementing these reforms over the coming years, and the impact they will have on the range of qualifications on offer.

The Government's policy statement is available to view here