Awarding organisations have seven months to make their case for retaining funding for level 2 technical qualifications as the government presses ahead with plans to “simplify” the marketplace by axing thousands of courses.
Guidance published on Thursday details the extensive approvals process for the qualifications that will be considered for funding in time for teaching in September 2025.
In-scope in this approval round are level 2 technical occupational entry and additional specialist qualifications in the following routes: construction and the build environment, education and early years, engineering and manufacturing and health and science.
The first “cycle” of reformed level 2 qualifications were supposed to be on offer from September 2024, but was delayed by a year by DfE following its consultation last year.
Level 2 technical qualifications in other occupational routes will be considered for teaching from 2026 through the same process with dates being released this autumn. Qualifications at level 1 and below will be reviewed in “cycle two” in time for reformed qualifications to be taught in 2027.
The process announced this week is similar to the one already in place for T Level alternatives at level 3 qualifications.
Any new or existing qualifications that an awarding body thinks should be publicly funded must pass a number of tests with Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) and then the Department for Education to make the final list.
As well as proving a qualification is eligible for Ofqual recognition, awarding organisations will be expected to evidence sufficient demand from learners and employers. IfATE guidance advises awarding organisations to gather evidence from labour market information, local skills improvement plans and “direct employer engagement” as part of their applications.
If Ofqual and IfATE approve a bid, the Department for Education then gets a final say on whether a qualification meets their criteria to receive funding.
IfATE will only approve level 2 qualifications that “match up to employer-defined occupational standards”. It’s chief executive, Jennifer Coupland, described the new approvals process as “a major step towards a world class, simpler system where employers and learners can be confident in the currency and quality of apprenticeships and technical qualifications at every level.”
But Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), believes this new approval process adds unnecessary red tape without clear value for learners.
He said: “It’s no secret that FAB does not support this additional layer of bureaucracy in terms of approving individual qualifications, particularly when Ofqual already sufficiently regulates AOs to operate in a publicly funded market. It’s become a huge distraction at a time when what we should all be focused on is plugging the skills and productivity gap.
“The government via IfATE have never really demonstrated how the skills system will deliver better outcomes for learners by introducing such a complex process, other than some technocratic notion that employers must be able to formally endorse these quals via the Institute.”
Awarding organisations that have new or existing qualifications in those subjects that they think should receive public funding can register their interest now ahead of the official window opening on November 13 and closing the following week on November 24.
Outcomes will be communicated to awarding organisations by the end of July 2024, the DfE has said, and there will be further “procedural review” option until the end of August of an unsuccessful AO thinks an “unreasonable decision” has been made.
GCSEs and English and maths functional skills qualifications are not in scope for this approval process.