DfE U-turns over study programme rule change

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has U-turned on plans to bar 16- to 19-year-olds who’ve passed GCSE maths and English from following level one study programmes.

The announcement today comes after the agency received feedback from a “small but significant number of providers” on the rule change, originally announced last month.

“We have decided not to apply the change in 2019 to 2020 and will discuss the responses with the sector over the next few months,” today’s ESFA update said.

“We will then decide whether to proceed with this change for academic year 2020 to 2021. We aim to confirm our decision on this by the end of May 2019.”

The decision was welcomed by Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, who said it was a “good move”.

The “question about whether 16-year-olds with GCSE passes should be enrolled on level one courses” was a good one to be raised by the ESFA, he said, but “the original plan to change the rules in 2019/20 was wrong” – not least because “colleges are half-way through the information and advice cycle”.

“The skills that students are learning on these construction and engineering courses are very different to what they’re learning in school”, he said.

“A number of colleges contacted us to query ESFA’s original decision. We’re pleased that they’ve listened and will be looking at the issue in more detail in the run-up to 2020.”

The proposed rule change was first announced by the ESFA on December 18.

It said that learners “with prior attainment in English and maths at grade four or above that are undertaking a vocational qualification are not expected to be on an entry level or level one core aim” from 2019/20.

The change, included as an advance notification of a planned change to funding guidance, would still apply “even if they have no previous experience in the vocational area”.

But it sparked warnings from the AoC that it would “create the wrong incentives for students”.