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The FE Curriculum Beyond 2023: Implications of qualification reform

23 September 2021

by Catherine Sezen, Senior Policy Manager, FE at Association of Colleges

In July the Department for Education published the outcome of the Level 3 Qualification Review consultation alongside a number of other documents including a policy vision.

This key document outlines the plans for both 16 to 18 and adult qualifications. There will be two main pillars – academic and technical within which there will be a variety of qualification options.

For young people the technical landscape includes not only T levels and Apprenticeships, but also ‘occupational-entry technical qualifications’ and ‘specialist qualifications’. Occupational-entry qualifications will support entry to occupations not covered by T Levels. An example in the policy document is Travel and Tourism. Specialist qualifications will focus on skills and knowledge in specific areas which go beyond T Levels and other competence based technical qualifications. A qualification in low carbon construction design would complement the Design, Surveying and Planning T level. On the academic side, alongside A Levels and AS Levels there will be small, one A-Level-sized qualifications which can be combined with A Levels to make up a ‘mixed programme’ and large alternatives to A levels which support progression to specialist HE. The additional guidance for providers indicates that these qualifications might be in subjects such as performing and creative arts, sport and STEM. Technical and academic qualifications which overlap with T Levels will gradually be defunded as T levels are introduced.

The academic pillar in the post 19 landscape has the same options as for 16 to 18-year-olds with the addition of funding for Access courses. However, the technical landscape looks quite different from the offer for young people. There will be competence based technical occupational qualifications leading to skilled employment and qualifications providing cross sectoral skills. The policy document notes that no decision has been made as yet as to whether T levels or stand-alone occupational specialisms will be available for adults. This is subject to the outcome of the upcoming spending review.

All of the above lead to many questions, not least the impact on students, planning, staffing and resource. What does the criteria for determining ‘overlap’ look like? When will the decision on qualifications which could be defunded from September 2023 be made? If a college offers students a small qualification in autumn 2022 will ‘top up’ be available in September 2023?

AoC has identified five key areas where we would like to see greater clarity and rapid action:

  1. Pace of reform needs to be evolutionary, working with colleges and others to learn more about and evaluate T Levels and Transition including impact of English and maths exit requirements
  2. Increased funding and hours for pre-T Level transition programmes
  3. Clarity on the criteria for L3 qualifications which can continue to be funded
  4. Defunding of L3 qualifications only when T Level dominates that pathway
  5. Analysis of the scale of industry placements required and an overarching strategy to achieve this.

If you would like to find out more about the next steps for qualification reform join us as the AoC ‘Curriculum Planning Conference – 2023 and beyond’. The conference is being held online over two day, 12 and 13 October. We will be joined by DfE officials who will update us on the reform programme and next steps including the Level 2 and below qualification landscape. You will be able to put your own questions to representatives from DfE, Ofqual and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. There will be an international perspective from the Netherlands – what lessons can we learn from their approach to technical education? Alongside a focus on the importance of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance for young people, parents, carers, employers and school staff there will be breakouts on the 2020 T level and Transition programme experience, planning and delivering industry placements and the support available from ETF to help guide you and colleagues through what is undoubtedly a huge cultural shift with many implications for colleges and the communities they serve.

I look forward to seeing you on 12 October ready to ask questions and get answers!