Award cull comes ‘with no warning’

Surprise plans that could end government funding for around 1,600 qualifications might hit the job hopes of thousands of struggling learners, it has been claimed.

Graham Hasting-Evans, managing director of the National Open College Network (NOCN) awarding body, said he feared unemployed students could see courses stopped as a result of the plans, which he said had been unexpected.

“When we saw what the Skills Funding Agency was planning to do, and it’s doing it quite quickly, we found that over a year this could affect up to 50,000 people,” he said.

“These are generally learners at the lower credit levels, where qualifications are very much for people who are in difficulties and trying to get into employment or further education — the unemployed, for instance.

“There may well be a good reason for it [ending funding], but it’s never been explained to us. We weren’t aware this was coming.”

The agency revealed, in its New Streamlined Funding System for Adult Skills document, that it would stop paying for certain ‘awards’.

An agency spokesperson said the move was being made as part of a “strategic review of the qualifications offer in consultation with the sector”.

We and our members had no prior warning”

She said: “This will ensure that only those qualifications that are demanded by learners and employers and that meet the highest standards will be supported by public funding.”

Qualifications with credit values of 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 under the Qualifications and Credit Framework will not be funded from January.

Exceptions, according to agency guidance, were expected to include “very small” English and maths qualifications, as well as “other small qualifications” for students with learning difficulties or disabilities, and “those who are unemployed”.

The move could result in the end of public funding for, FE Week understands, more than 1,600 ‘awards’ — including 27 NOCN courses, such as using employability skills.

We are concerned about the adverse effect it is likely to have on qualifications.”

Mr Hastings–Evans said: “The only action we could take would be to rewrite qualifications so they fit the 3, 6, 9 or 12 brackets, then they’d have to go to Ofqual for approval, and the agency for approval for funding.

“They could find lots of people coming up with new qualifications.”

A spokesperson for the qualifications watchdog Ofqual said it was aware of the changes and had been in talks with the agency.

“The way qualifications are funded can have an impact on the market, and create particular incentives,”
she said.

“We are alert to this and will take action to make sure that qualifications are fit for purpose and meet the appropriate standards, with credit allocated appropriately.”

The move is the second cull on qualifications in as many months.

The agency was warned in February by the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) that it risked “destabilising the system” with plans to stop paying out for nearly 2,500 qualifications that had little or no uptake.

The latest cull has drawn further criticism from FAB.

Its chief executive, Jill Lanning, said: “We and our members had no prior warning and we have sought clarification from the agency about the rationale for the change.

“We are concerned about the adverse effect it is likely to have on qualifications.”

The agency spokesperson added: “We have set out a process to focus funding in 2013/14 for very short courses on qualifications that are more meaningful.

“Therefore, the qualifications that will be funded have a clear track record of demand from learners and employers.”

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Editorial: A crude and brutal cull

The government could stop funding more than 1,600 qualifications in less than a year from now.

Finding out on page 13 of a Skills Funding Agency funding reform update, you could be forgiven for thinking this was common knowledge.

But it came as a complete surprise to providers and awarding organisations.

No consultation and no warning, it would appear — and a more than questionable rationale.

Why, for example, would removing one credit from a 10-credit qualification make it worthy of continued funding?

It can’t be argued that not enough people do these qualifications as they passed the agency’s volume threshold that was behind a cull two months ago.

Perhaps cynically, I would suggest this is a crude and brutal move driven by a central dictat in the name of simplification.

Yet our Skills Minister has said qualification design should be driven by the needs of learners and employers.

I fail to see how reducing choice and forcing awards to be one of only four credit values, can be good for anyone.

Nick Linford, editor of FE Week