Awarding bodies may call for new independent funding approval process citing ‘lack of transparency’

Awarding organisations are considering calling on the government to create an independent process for qualification funding approvals in a bid to stop decisions being driven by short-term political goals.

Their representative association, the Federation of Awarding Bodies, has floated the idea of setting up an “Independent Commission for Qualification and Apprenticeship Funding Approvals”.

The federation believes the existing process by which ministers decide how and which qualifications are funded, such as the current review of qualifications at level 3 and below, currently “lacks transparency”.

It fears that this review, which is likely to result in the loss of thousands of applied general qualifications, including BTECs, is a way of pushing out these long-standing qualifications to ensure that parents and young people opt for new T-levels in order to make them a success.

“There is widespread concern that decisions lack integrity and are not based on the real long-term needs of the economy and wider society,”

FAB’s chief executive Tom Bewick said, adding that the decisions are driven by “short-term political considerations”.

He told FE Week the Independent Commission would have a role similar to that of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (which advises ministers on which medical treatments should be funded on the NHS) and the Migration Advisory Committee (which gives opinion to the government about non-EU immigration policy).

In its upcoming consultation to members about the proposal, FAB argues there is a conflict of interest of the Education and Skills Funding Agency being the same agency responsible for T-Level implementation, as well as for advising the education secretary on which level 3 and below qualifications should be funded in future.

The independent commission would be appointed by the education secretary and would have representation from experts in qualifications and from labour market economists, while ensuring the views of the provider, the learner and the employer would be represented.

The education secretary would still make the final decisions about funding rules, but these decisions would be made in response to the published recommendations of the independent commission. It would advise on the funding of all publicly regulated and funded qualifications from levels 1 to 5 and all 30 apprenticeship funding bands.

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “In principle, it’s right that there should be an independent evidence-based assessment of which courses deserve public funding and at what level. DfE has loaded obligations on colleges but hasn’t changed funding rates for seven years.”

However, he added that the AoC is “not so sure that a new statutory agency is the answer unless it is part of a wider reform because colleges already receive public money via six different funding lines and account for themselves to five different regulators”.

Mark Dawe, chief executive at Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “For AELP, the key priority is IfATE being more transparent about its decision-making and more responsive to the employers on the trailblazers in what is meant to be an employer-driven system. If it gets better at these, then we don’t need another body.

“What needs to happen is to get everyone around the table at thestart – providers, assessment bodies, employers and officials – and then determine what is wanted and the rough cost, rather than the current process, which seems random, divisive and opaque.”