Confirmed: Level 3 ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ qualification list excludes major economic sectors

level 3

Almost 400 level 3 qualifications have been chosen for the prime minister’s lifetime skills guarantee – but major sectors including hospitality, tourism and media have been excluded as FE Week previously revealed.

The Department for Education has today published the list (click here) of qualifications that will be fully funded for adults without a full qualification at level 3 – equivalent to two full A-levels.

In total there are 379 qualifications on the list, although some (such as A levels in subjects such as physics) are the same qualification simply with a different awarding organisation and others that are not A levels, like the Advanced Certificate in Bookkeeping, are too small to be counted as a full level 3 qualification.

Backed with £95 million from the National Skills Fund and available from April 2021, the sectors involved include the likes of engineering, public services, construction and nursing.

However, as FE Week exclusively reported last month, key parts of the economy have been left out. Those excluded are deemed by the DfE to be a low priority with low wages, and include hospitality, media and arts, travel and tourism, sport and retail.

The government said the courses chosen for the offer are those that are “valued by employers”, with prime minister Boris Johnson adding that the lifetime skills guarantee will give “thousands of adults across the country the chance to do exactly that – as we build back better after the pandemic”. 

But Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, hit out at this “top-down driven list cooked up in Whitehall”, which shows the DfE has gone for a “convoluted way of trying to ration limited public funds from the get go, while dressing the whole policy up as being an absolute free learning entitlement like access to the NHS”.

“Indeed, this is increasingly looking like neither lifetime skills or a guarantee, with some of the qualifications listed, like A-level physics, looking more like the government’s ideological obsession with science subjects rather than a focus on what a post-Covid economy many need,” he added.

The DfE has said the list will be kept under review to “ensure that it continues to respond to changing labour market needs”, and there will be a “facility” for awarding organisations and mayoral combined authorities to suggest additions to the list.  

The lifetime skills guarantee builds on a policy that has been in place since 2013, which allows adults up to the age of 23 to be fully funded for their first full level 3 qualification from the adult education budget. Those aged 24 and over have since had to take out an advanced learner loan to pay for the course.

The current entitlement for those aged 23 and below spans nearly 1,200 qualifications, which is almost four times as many as those being made available under the lifetime skills guarantee.

The DfE said any qualifications included in this new level 3 adult offer, which are not included in the existing 19 to 23 statutory entitlement, will be made available for 19 to 23 learners. Any level 3 qualifications not currently included in this offer will continue to be eligible for advanced learner loans.

Funding for the new level 3 adult offer will be delivered through the Education and Skills Funding Agency in non-devolved areas, and delivered through Mayoral Combined Authorities and the Greater London Authority through a “separate grant”, on the “strict condition that funding is used for its intended purpose”.  

FE Week asked how the funding would be dished out to providers, presumed to be through the adult education budget, but the DfE declined to comment beyond saying further information about these arrangements “will be made in due course”.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers managing director Jane Hickie said today’s announcement is a “positive step” but while the inclusion of sectors such as adult care is welcomed, “we can’t fail to hide our disappointment that hospitality and retail have been left off when these sectors are being hit so hard by the effects of the pandemic”.

“Time is short for making the required funding available to providers and colleges but we hope that the ESFA and the MCAs take care to allocate it to providers with a good track-record of delivery,” she added.

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the “breadth of courses” included in the list is “vital in supporting rural and urban economies to build back better”.

“The qualifications will help people to get the skills they need in the labour market emerging from the pandemic so it is great to see that essential services like child and social care have been included alongside engineering, agriculture, construction and many others,” he added.

Sector subject areas included:

  • Accounting and Finance
  • Agriculture
  • Building and construction
  • Business management
  • Child development and well-being
  • Engineering
  • Environmental conservation
  • Health and social care
  • Horticulture and forestry
  • ICT for users
  • ICT Practitioners
  • Manufacturing technologies
  • Mathematics and statistics
  • Medicine and Dentistry
  • Nursing and Subjects and Vocations Allied to Medicine
  • Public services
  • Science
  • Teaching and Lecturing
  • Transportation operations and maintenance
  • Warehousing and distribution

Sector subject areas excluded

  • Administration
  • Animal care and veterinary science
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology and archaeological sciences
  • Architecture
  • Crafts, creative arts and design
  • Direct Learning Support
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • History, Philosophy and Theology
  • Hospitality and catering
  • Languages, literature and culture of the British Isles
  • Law and Legal Services
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Media and communication
  • Other languages, literature and culture
  • Performing arts
  • Philosophy
  • Politics
  • Publishing and Information Services
  • Service enterprises
  • Social Sciences
  • Sociology and Social Policy
  • Sport, leisure and recreation
  • Theology and religious studies
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Urban, Rural and Regional Planning


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  1. Charlotte

    I agree with Mike, it is not clear on course providers websites on what courses are funded and as of today should be live, providers are still charging for them! I would love to complete a level 3, please can the process be made much clearer.