Government reveals first round of ‘practical A-levels’ with 142 Tech-levels

The first tranche of business-backed Tech-levels to be counted in new-look 16 to 19 performance tables has been announced.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock unveiled 142 practical courses, comparable to A-levels, that will be counted in tables for colleges and school sixth forms from 2016.

Among them are qualifications in sport, performing arts and patisserie developed with Arsenal Football Club, the Royal Ballet School and Calcot Manor, respectively.

Tech-levels are level three qualifications that will form part of an overall TechBacc, along with a core level three maths qualification and an extended project, aimed at giving learners a grounding in subjects such as engineering, IT, construction and manufacturing.

The government also announced 87 applied general qualifications — courses not directly linked to an occupation, but providing broader study of a vocational area. They are equal to half an A-level and need the backing of three universities. They will also count in performance tables.

To count in the tables, both qualifications must demonstrate what they lead to — be it a job, apprenticeship or further study.

Mr Hancock said: “We must be honest with our young people. For too long, too many students have been taking qualifications that do not help them get a job, into training, or to university.

“Our radical reforms are part of our long-term plan for the economy and will mean that for the first time young people will know which qualifications are backed by top employers and lead to better employment opportunities.

“Tech-levels and applied general qualifications will give students the skills so vital to getting on in life, preparing them for employment, training and higher education.”

The two qualifications are part of the government’s response to its consultation on the vocational qualifications that would continue to count in performance tables, for young people taking courses from September next year.

Only those level three, or advanced, qualifications which have the support of businesses or universities will be included in new-look 16 to 19 performance tables, due to be published in January 2017.

The changes will mean that at least 80 per cent of the 5,000 current vocational qualifications will be scrapped from league tables, according to the government.

The announcement follows Professor Alison Wolf’s report into vocational education which said that, “at least 350,000 young people in a given 16 to 19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements”.

It continued: “Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.”

Professor Wolf said: “High-quality and respected qualifications are at the heart of any excellent vocational education system. I am delighted that the government has taken this major step towards establishing such a system for England: one that will serve the needs of motivated and ambitious young people, of employers, and of the country as a whole.”

Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said: “The proposals for Tech-levels represent a massive initiative which will need careful planning, especially at a time when almost every other part of the qualifications system is also being reformed.

“The success of this ambitious change relies on a realistic timescale for implementation and adequate resourcing and training. This cannot be done on the cheap. It also needs to involve school and college leaders in all phases of development to make sure that we end up with qualifications that work on a practical level.

“It is essential for these qualifications to be part of a coherently-planned curriculum alongside ‘traditional’ A-levels. All young people need preparation for employment whatever options they choose in school or college. These qualifications must be integrated into developments in other qualifications.”

Debbie Ribchester, 14 to 19 and curriculum senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: “We are concerned that this is a very significant overhaul of level three vocational qualifications, with a worryingly short timescale for implementation.

“We can appreciate the intention to bring clarity regarding the primary purpose of qualifications at this level by having employer and higher education endorsement, but colleges will now need to review the lists to see where their existing qualifications sit.”