Today, I am pleased to announce the next stage in the Government’s review of post-16 qualifications at level 2 and below1 in England—the publication of the response to our consultation on the review of qualifications that are approved for public funding at these levels. After confirming our reforms to level 3 qualifications last year, we are now confirming our policy on qualifications at level 2 and below following our consultation which ran from 2 March to 27 April 2022.
This is a vital next step towards reforming and revitalising technical education. Streamlining and improving post-16 education and skills is at the heart of our plan to strengthen the economy and create jobs. Students and employers will benefit from a joined-up, dynamic education system that can adapt to rapidly changing priorities.
The current qualification landscape at level 2 and below is complex, and while many of the qualifications are likely to be excellent, it is not a consistent picture. Qualifications that are funded in future should be necessary, high quality and have a distinct purpose. Crucially, these qualifications should also support progression to successful outcomes for the students who take them, whether this is into a higher level of study, or directly into skilled employment. In a fast-moving and modern economy, it is vital that we bridge the gap between what people study and the needs of employers.
To mirror the approach we have taken at level 3, we have grouped qualifications at level 2 and below according to their primary purpose. By clarifying the purpose of each qualification, we will enable students to see how their choice of qualification will lead to a positive outcome, whether this is to further study or directly into employment. Further education colleges, schools, other providers and careers advisers will play a key role in delivering information, advice and guidance to prospective students to ensure they are directed towards a qualification that will meet their needs.
I would like to thank those who took the time to respond to our consultation.2 Among the 410 responses, there was strong support for the aim of simplifying the qualification landscape and improving the quality of provision, and for the groups of qualifications we proposed to fund in future. Other themes from the consultation responses included: the importance of flexibility for students studying at these levels; the potential impact of reducing qualification choice on students from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND); and the need for a phased approach to the timing and sequencing of the reforms.
The response we are publishing today confirms that we will fund all of the qualification groups proposed, proceed with setting national standards for personal, social and employability (PSE) qualifications and consulting on these, and consider updating the national standards for adult literacy and numeracy. We have made changes to allow greater flexibility, for example allowing providers to offer level 2 qualifications leading to employment to 16 to 19-year-olds in less than two years, depending on the size of the reformed qualification and how it fits alongside the other essential elements of the study programme.
As the aim of this reform is to improve qualification provision at level 2 and below, we expect students over-represented at this level such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds or with SEND to be the biggest recipients of the benefits of these changes. We will work with the sector to explore how best to support students to progress by having flexibilities in place to ensure students with SEND can access our proposed qualification groups. We will also regularly review the mix and balance of qualifications approved to ensure we are meeting the needs of all learners.
We have reviewed the implementation timeline and, while we want momentum, we also want to introduce these reforms at a manageable pace for schools and colleges, given the extent of change to the wider qualifications landscape, including at level 3. That is why we are making sure first reformed qualifications at level 2 and below will be available for teaching from September 2025 rather than 2024. Further reformed qualifications will be phased in for 2026, with final reforms in 2027.
I look forward to engaging with the sector as we implement these important reforms.
1 For definitions of levels, see https://www.gov.uk/what-different-qualification-levels-mean/list-of-qualification-levels
2 As previously set out, GCSEs, Functional Skills Qualifications (FSQs) and Essential Digital Skills Qualifications (EDSQs) were not in scope of this consultation.