Sector concern after Skills Funding Agency list a further 174 qualifications facing the axe

The government has been warned by FE sector leaders against making “simplistic decisions” that could limit funding to qualifications for a specific occupation — after it identified 174 qualifications in this category.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) yesterday listed 174 qualifications, at level two and above, facing the public spending axe unless the government is convinced otherwise through a consultation with colleges, independent learning providers, employers, learners and awarding organisations.

It came after the SFA identified 1,477 Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) level two to four qualifications in January which it said would not be approved for 2014/15 funding.

A report accompanying the latest list of threatened qualifications said the government only planned to fund those that “support meaningful outcomes in terms of enabling entry to an apprenticeship or other work, progression through work, or progression to the next level of learning”.

It also questioned the need for Level 2 QCF units that focus on more general skills — for example preparing CVs.

The report stated: “Where a [Level 2] qualification focuses on the skills needed to research and apply for jobs, we do not intend to continue including it within the publicly funded offer.”

Learners will only be able to start on courses for the 174 qualifications up to the end of February, unless the government decides to retain any of them.

Courses facing the axe include a Pearson BTec level two diploma in WorkSkills.

But questions were asked as to whether this would simply force providers to register learners for equivalent lower-level courses (for example Pearson offers a similar BTec level one diploma in WorkSkills).

Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of the 157 Group, said: “We are concerned at the increasing suggestion that funding should only be directed to qualifications which lead to a specific occupation.

“What we know about the labour market in the 21st century is that people will have many jobs and will need a very broad base of skills in order to manage their own careers.

“The increased focus of much vocational qualification reform on preparing people for specific occupations seems at odds with that.

“The fact that no-one questions which specific occupation individual A-levels might prepare people for suggestions that we risk creating an unequal funding situation between those on an academic pathway and those studying vocational programmes.”

Dr Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for development and research at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “Deciding whether the courses under consideration will achieve the purpose outlined by the government will not be an easy task and we must avoid simplistic decisions.

“Before any qualifications are cut from public funding, it is vital that we have a full understanding of their value to a range of stakeholders.

“That is why we are pleased that the consultation will listen to the views of learners.”

But Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We welcome the fact that the SFA will be involving all of the key groups in the review of these qualifications, including training providers.

“I am sure that qualifications which are being used effectively will remain fundable as part of this review.”

A spokesperson for Pearson said: “Three of the 174 qualifications identified by the SFA are owned by Pearson. We will therefore be contributing to their discussions with stakeholders, as part of this review. We will also be seeking to explore how we can continue to help students develop the broader employability skills necessary to succeed once they’ve left education”.