Skills Funding Agency chief defends shock qualifications cull

Skills Funding Agency chief defends shock qualifications cull

Skills Funding Agency chief executive Barbara Spicer has spoken out to defend a shock public funding cut for adult qualifications.

An unexpected 15-credit threshold for public funding was revealed by the agency late last month, prompting concerns about a lack of consideration.

But Ms Spicer said there had been sector consultation and also hit back at the FE Week editor’s column in edition 91 (dated Monday, February 3) in which it was suggested that such a move should have been communicated to the sector via the Skills Funding Statement (SFS).

The 2012-15 SFS was published in December 2012 and contained a section on qualifications — but last year’s has still not been published.

The FE Week editor’s comment read: “Could it be the agency could not wait any longer, and the SFS information blockage is starting to leak?

“Providers, who try to plan and advertise their courses, should be the first to be informed.”

It continued: “Without FE Week bringing the change to the attention of providers, how long before they would have realised?

“The SFS (still not out at the time of going to press) serves to communicate such changes. It cannot come soon enough”.

However, Ms Spicer told FE Week the funding cut was not related to funding and the SFS – but, rather, the “the business rules for approving qualifications”.

“This is not about funding policy — it is about the business rules for approving qualifications and ensuring we have rigour within the offering,” she said.

The unexpected funding cut was made public on January 29 with the posting on the agency’s website of a document entitled Approval of Qualifications for Public Funding for Adult Learners: Technical Guidance for Awarding Organisations.

Under a section on business rules, it outlined how qualifications at Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) levels 13 and 14 would no longer be paid for by the taxpayer.

It followed an agency consultation late last year on a public funding cut to qualifications — but only in reference to qualifications of up to level 12 (awards).

The unexpected 15-credit (one credit equates to 10 hours’ learning) public funding threshold puts higher-credited certificates in the firing line, not just awards.

Ms Spicer confirmed there had been consultation on the 12-credit public funding threshold, but declined to comment on why there had been no warning of the 15-credit threshold.

“The agency completed a strategic review of the publicly funded offer in June 2013, in advance of and to support the wider review of QCF and vocational qualifications and we have been talking to awarding organisations and providers about these latest changes since autumn last year,” she said.

Skills Funding Agency chief executive Barbara Spicer’s rebuttal to the FE Week editor’s comment in full.

We write in response to your article ‘Shock funding cut for 1,500 adult quals’, in which the publication of the list of qualifications below the size threshold at level two and above that will not be approved for funding in 2014/15 is discussed.

We rebut the comments made within the editorial piece that this is linked to the Skills Funding Statement.

This is not about funding policy, it is about the business rules for approving qualifications and ensuring we have rigour within the offering.

The agency completed a strategic review of the publicly funded offer in June 2013, in advance of and to support the wider review of QCF and vocational qualifications and we have been talking to awarding organisations and providers about these latest changes since autumn last year.

We have also published technical guidance which sets out the process and rules we will apply to approve regulated qualifications for public funding.

As a result, we will have a publicly-funded qualifications offer that is focused on high quality, robust and occupationally relevant qualifications that have a clear track record of demand from learners and employers and can lead to employment and progression.