To really level up, government needs to slow down its defunding of qualifications

14 Jul 2021

The Association of Colleges, which represents more than 90% of England’s colleges, has today urged the government to reconsider its plan to defund qualifications which are vital for the economic recovery and prosperity of the nation. More time is needed for the new T Levels to become established before any successful existing qualifications can be defunded.

The Association of Colleges, has warned Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education that a hasty scrapping of hundreds of level three qualifications starting in 2023 risks leaving some of the most disadvantaged young people without routes into meaningful work, and will harm businesses' abilities to employ staff with the right skills to help them grow, especially in economic cold spots. 

 The national voice for colleges warns:

  • Disadvantaged students will be disproportionately affected by these changes. The qualifications which are likely to be withdrawn are taken by higher proportions of Black and Minority Ethnic students, students with lower prior achievement, students with SEND or eligible for Free School meals. These are the very students we most need to encourage to participate and progress in order to address structural inequalities. The government’s own analysis shows that the most disadvantaged students are twice as likely to be enrolled on qualifications likely to be withdrawn than the least disadvantaged.
  • The speed at which many level 3 qualifications will be scrapped (by 2023) means that thousands of students will be left with untested qualifications, or with no options at all.
  • The proposals fail to appreciate the complexity of the qualifications landscape - ‘overlapping’ courses often serve different purposes, and pathways needs to be properly scoped out
  • T Levels are heavily reliant upon industry placements - it is unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of placements necessary would be found whilst T Levels are relatively unknown amongst employers, especially in economic cold spots 
  • Because students need to achieve a grade 4 or Level 2 Functional Skill in English and Mathematics to be awarded a T Level, as many as 1 in 5 students may not achieve.

 AoC is calling for:

  • A pause on the defunding of hundreds of level three qualifications until T Levels become established, with overlapping predecessor qualifications defunded only when the T Level dominates that pathway
  • Increased funding and hours for pre-T Level transition programmes to provide more support for  students to get ready to be able to start and succeed in a T Level
  • Time for employers, students, schools and colleges to learn more about how T levels are run, what the outcomes are from the first waves and to gain a richer understanding of what level of students they suit and the support students and employers will need.

Responding to the goverment's reform of post-16 qualifications, David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“If the government really wants to level up, it needs to slow down this major reform and recognise the risks to thousands of young people. We are big supporters of T levels because they have the potential to improve the reputation and standing of technical education if they are implemented properly, alongside other qualifications. Colleges want to deliver them and employers are beginning to understand them and warm to them. Working with colleges, this reform would be a success so it is difficult to see why the Department for Education is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. 

We don’t need a strong-armed approach to force change, that change will happen. This approach risks leaving thousands of disadvantaged students with limited or no routes to progress into work or continuing education when they need them most. 

We urge DfE to take a moment, work with the college sector, and create a new roll out plan that ensures T Levels are a success, whilst not inadvertently disadvantaging thousands of already disadvantaged students with their quest for speed. Doing that will ensure that all students in all parts of the country are able to find the right course for them and their aspirations. Collaboration not confrontation, working with rather than doing to.”