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Qualification Reform

Volume 682: debated on Friday 23 October 2020

Today, I am pleased to launch the next stage of the review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in England. The review is an opportunity to develop a qualifications system where every student, including those with SEND and from disadvantaged backgrounds, benefits from high quality qualifications that help them realise their talents and achieve their career ambitions. This is vital to addressing our country’s productivity and skills gaps and achieving the international competitiveness on which our future prosperity depends. The proposals I am setting out today complement important technical education improvements already underway through T-levels, apprenticeships and to higher levels of technical study.

The proposals follow a first stage consultation which was carried out in 2019 and are open for consultation until 15 January 2021.

The case for reform is strong. There are more than 12,000 different qualifications funded in England at level 3 and below. Some of the qualifications are well recognised and valued, but as the Wolf review and Sainsbury review identified, too many are poorly understood and poor quality. Students face a bewildering choice over which is right for them and which will increase their employment opportunities. Our aim is for clearer qualifications choices for young people and adults. We want students and employers to have confidence that every qualification on offer is high quality and can lead to skilled employment or further study.

We believe that T-levels and A-levels should become the programmes of choice at level 3. T-levels have been developed with employers to give young people the skills they need to enter employment or higher technical study, and A-levels have consistently prepared students well for higher education.

This consultation focuses on level 3. It sets out proposals for the qualifications we believe are needed alongside T-levels and A-levels for 16 to 19 year olds and adults, and how to ensure they meet the consistently high levels of quality that are needed to support all students to fulfil their potential and provide the skills and knowledge employers and higher education institutions need. The consultation sets out detailed proposals to streamline the technical offer for 16 to 19 year olds alongside T-levels to ensure that as many young people as possible can benefit from the preparation T-levels will provide. For young people choosing academic qualifications, we want only those qualifications that give the best preparation to progress on to, and successfully complete, high quality HE courses.

The new lifetime skills guarantee announced by the Prime Minister will fund level 3 technical courses for adults. We must ensure qualifications give adults the skills the country needs, so they are able to gain employment or to progress in the workplace. Adults will generally need greater flexibility than 16 to 19 year olds and will also tend to have greater prior experience. Our starting point for adults is a similar offer as for 16 to 19 year olds, but with some additional technical qualifications to meet their needs and more flexibility built in to the design of qualifications for adults.

We propose Ofqual and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education should have a key role in ensuring and maintaining quality. And we want to put employers at the heart of this process by aligning the majority of qualifications to employer-led standards.

Alongside these proposals for level 3 qualifications, we want to improve study at level 2 and below. Getting level 2 and below right is key to making sure that students have clear lines of sight to level 3, apprenticeships, traineeships, and for some, directly into employment. We want to know more about what is working well in the current system and what more needs to be done to support all students to succeed. That is why we will shortly be publishing a call for evidence on level 2 and below.

This review is a once in a generation opportunity to develop a qualifications system where every student can benefit. Our proposed landscape—with employers at the heart and a much greater focus on quality—will serve all students better, including those with SEND and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I look forward to continued engagement with the sector on these reforms. I will set out our firm plans and the next steps for implementation of our level 3 reforms in response to this consultation; and we intend to follow the call for evidence with a consultation on level 2 and below next year.