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Post 16 Qualifications Reform: Your chance to feed back and find out more

28th September 2022

This is the first year of T Level results, and T Level students have done a fantastic job in completing their courses with a 92.2% pass rate overall. This is a huge achievement for these pioneering young people who have worked so hard over the past two years under challenging circumstances, supported by their fantastic schools and colleges. It is also brilliant news that many of the young people who have received their T Level results have already secured a job, an apprenticeship or will be going on to university. Feedback from the first cohort of students has been really positive. Colleges tell us the qualifications are high quality and students have enjoyed their courses, particularly their time on the industry placements. There are now 16 T Levels available to young people in a range of subjects including digital, construction, health, science, accounting and engineering, with over 175 schools and further education colleges across England offering them. More will be rolled out in 2023 and 2024, including legal, media and agriculture, with plans to introduce a T Level for Marketing in 2025 also in train.

Whilst we are keen to celebrate this success for our first cohort of T Level students, we recognise that there have also been concerns with the first- year assessments for the Health and Science T Levels. As a result, we have worked with the qualifications regulator Ofqual, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to determine the factors which led to these issues and agree an appropriate response. We are engaging closely with colleges affected to advise on next steps and are carefully considering the lessons learnt for the programme more broadly.

Alongside the introduction of T Levels, we need to continue to improve the quality of the post-16 qualification landscape. Reviews from Wolf and Sainsbury found that the content of many qualifications was not valued by employers and provided little value to students. This is why the Department is streamlining the quality of the post-16 level 3 qualifications system.

We are streamlining the qualifications on offer at level 3 so that A levels and T Levels are the qualifications of choice in the future. We know a small range of qualifications will be needed alongside A levels and T Levels, and the post 16 qualifications review will ensure these are necessary, high quality, and have a clear purpose that leads to good outcomes. We know that further education colleges will want more detail of what this means in practice, and we will set out more detail about our new approvals process in the autumn.

At level 2 and below, the landscape is complex, with thousands of qualifications approved for public funding. Whilst many of these qualifications are likely to be excellent, it is not a consistent picture, and it is hard to tell which ones are high quality and will lead to good outcomes. We are also reforming qualifications at level 2 and below so that there will be fewer, higher quality qualifications and to simplify the landscape. Programmes at level 2 will support progression to further study, or into skilled employment.

We are also delivering reforms in order to improve quality and increase uptake of higher technical education (Levels 4 & 5), to open up opportunities for those who do not study degrees and to provide excellent progression options for T Level students.

Our economy faces various post-pandemic several challenges, including labour market shortages in key sectors and low productivity overall. Bringing on a workforce with the right skills, knowledge, behaviours and experience is key to ensuring a swift recovery and a certain future. And of course this challenge is felt by colleges when looking at their own recruitment and retention issues.

This means increasing the number of young people getting high quality technical education and training, so we have the skills to meet employers’ needs.

IfATE’s role in the reforms

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has a key role to play in this ambitious period of reform to technical education, by bringing employer voices to the fore.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act places IfATE at the centre of technical qualification reform at levels 2-5, allowing us to bring employers views to bear on the quality of technical qualifications made eligible for public funding. It is vital that employers can influence the design of technical qualifications, as it is only through their input that we can ensure that students are being taught the skills which are truly needed in industry.

At the centre of these reforms are the ‘occupational standards’, which are designed by employers and which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed in an occupation. It is the government’s ambition that post-16 technical education and training will be aligned to employer-led occupational standards by 2030 and IfATE are committed to achieving this.

Through IfATE’s qualifications approval process, alongside Ofqual, they aim to deliver colleges a technical qualification marketplace which offers a clear choice of qualifications, approved against the needs of employers; providing students with the skills they need to enter, and progress within, employment.

Ofqual’s role in the reforms

Ofqual’s priority is quality and fairness for students - making sure that qualifications and assessments are good quality, as fair as they can be and that they meet the needs of employers and other users of qualifications.

Ofqual’s role is to ensure qualifications approved for public funding have a distinct purpose and have clear links to further study or employment.

Ofqual will be responsible for regulating the qualifications once they are in delivery, to ensure they are awarded securely and as fairly and consistently as possible.

Ofqual will also provide input into DfE and IfATE’s review processes, ahead of qualifications being approved.

Your chance to feed back on the reforms and find out more

At this year's AoC Curriculum Conference, I will be joining a panel of other sector experts to discuss the ambitious changes happening across post-16 education. During the session, we’ll share the most up-to-date information and detail we have around the reforms. We know that colleges are keen to know more about the next steps in the reforms, and we want to provide help and support throughout the implementation process.

This event will be an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback around both the level 3 Qualifications Review so far and our expectations of the Level 2 reforms. We’ll cover what we think the biggest impacts will be on the sector, as well as the benefits to students, colleges and employers.

To further explore reforms with Susan Lovelock, book your place here for the AoC Curriculum Conference. It will be an opportunity to reflect and share best practice.