The post-16 vocational qualification system is set for a radical overhaul to replace 20,000 courses with “15 high-quality routes”, according to a government report to be published later today.

And each of the 15 routes, first reported exclusively by FE Week in May, will controversially only be available by a single awarding organisation.

The first ‘pathfinder’ routes will be taught from September 2019 and will be two-year college based programmes suitable from the age of 16, as well as those 19+, with close alignment to the new apprenticeship standards.

All 15 routes will be rolled-out for teaching by September 2022 and four of the 15 routes will be “primarily delivered through apprenticeships.”

The Skills Minister Nick Boles says in the ‘Post-16 Skills Plan‘, published at 10:30 this morning, that “we accept and will implement all of the Sainsbury panel’s proposals, unequivocally where that it is possible within current budget constraints.”

Lord Sainsbury’s ‘Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education’, also published today, recommends each route has a ‘common core’ which will include English, maths and digital skills as well as a “specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations.”

Many within the FE sector will feel a sense of déjà vu. The Labour government’s 14-19 Diplomas, were announced in a white paper in 2005, launched in 2008 and scrapped within a few years. There were 14 lines of learning consisting of qualifications comprising the components “principal learning, generic learning and additional and specialist learning.”

However, this latest attempt will be different says Mr Boles, who blames past attempts at reform for failing “because they lacked real commitment, with governments changing plans before they could have real impact.”

This latest plan states the government ambition is for 16 year-olds to be “presented with two choices: the academic or the technical option” in the form of these 15 routes covering “college-based and employment based (apprenticeship) education”.

A binary “choice” between academic and technical is likely to raise fears of creating a two tier education system, although bridging courses for those over the age of 18 are promised.

The plans include:

– A controversial move to have just one awarding organisation for each of the 15 routes. The report says the government will “put in place only one approved tech level qualification…we intend to grant exclusive licences for the development of these tech levels following a competitive process.”

– An expansion and renaming of the Institute for Apprenticeships, due to be launched in April 2017. New legislation will be needed for it to become the “only body responsible for technical education” and it will be called the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

– Every 16 to 18-year-old on a college based technical education programme will be “entitled” to a “quality work placement”

– Colleges and other training providers could be permitted to deliver traineeships for up to a year (a doubling of the current six month maximum) as part of a ‘transition year’ for 16 to 18-year-olds progressing onto one of the 15 routes

The 15 routes listed within the Skills Plan are as follows:

– Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care

– Business and Administrative

– Catering and Hospitality

– Childcare and Education

– Construction

– Creative and Design

– Digital

– Engineering and Manufacturing

– Hair and Beauty

– Health and Science

– Legal, Finance and Accounting

– Protective Services*

– Sales, Marketing and Procurement*

– Social Care*

– Transport and Logistics*

* primarily delivered through apprenticeships.

Post-16 Skills Plan Timeline

– April 2017 : the Institute for Apprenticeships begins operating

– April 2018 : the Institute for Apprenticeships becomes Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

– October 2018 : Procurement begins for new technical qualifications

– February 2019 : Technical qualifications approved for ‘pathfinder’ routes

– September 2019: First teaching of ‘pathfinder’ routes

– September 2020 – September 2022 – Phased teaching of other routes

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  1. Andrew G-H

    So even more reform and instability in the post 16 skills system…will the reforms stick this time, or be reversed/quietly dropeed once a new mininster is in place?

  2. Mike Farmer

    So Nick Boles thinks that, unlike previous ‘reforms’, this latest one will have ‘real impact’ before there is a change of government. What does he know that we don’t? Bear in mind he supported Michael Gove in the Tory leadership election when judging his predictive powers.

  3. Rob Brooks

    Colleges are going to be too busy dealing with the impact of area review, apprenticeship reform and the mess that is English and Maths to cope with yet another set of reform. This could be the straw that breaks the camels back.
    not to mention that talk of aligning qualifications with apprenticeship standards misses the point that apprenticeship standards don’t have qualifications in them (in the main) and that a lot of standards are being developed at level 3 and higher – how would you map level 2 qualifications to a standard that doesn’t exist?

  4. Andrew S

    Interesting that it envisages apprentices and full time students following the same programmes, but that the work-based elements are not assessed and signed off by competent persons as this would be burdensome to employers.

    In safety critical industries, this is not good enough. I can see various industry bodies refusing to recognise these qualifications if this were to be the case.

    I would also question whether the systemic issues in the structure of England’s education system are addressed by a new qualification system. Surely that’s an end-point, not a start.

    Meanwhile the minister is equivocal on the funding, BIS have numerous agreements to negotiate post-Brexit, and employers need this like an additional hole in the head, to the one which Brexit delivered.

  5. Sarah

    So what happens to the really good specialist Awarding Bodies that aren’t big enough to take on one of the ’15’? Has anyone thought that 158 Awarding Bodies actually are businesses who employ an awful lot of people across the country? What if a centre doesn’t like the Awarding Body it will be stuck with? There will be no choice. Awarding Bodies are very good at working collaboratively as shown with NVQs – same qualifications, same assessment strategy across lots of AB’s, take the good old Assessor Awards for example, different approaches to support, resources etc plus centre choice. Has anybody considered the DfE Technical Guidance that came out in 2015 which requires AB’s to work with employers when developing qualifications? Can’t see any of this becoming a reality as there has been no thought behind the statements. Does anybody remember the same plan being applied to General quals? – One AB for maths, one for English etc..hmmm…this was ditched! I wonder why?!

  6. Richard Brooks

    Very worrying that this document has been put together by people who perhaps aren’t as experienced in vocational/technical education as they should be. For example on page 48 they suggest that an individual could specialise in the second year as a Stonemason. The description then goes on to describe the duties of a Bricklayer. Two very different jobs and illustrates the lack of understanding that FE can be complex, for a very good reason. We are meeting the needs of employers….