Thousands of level 2 and below qualifications face the chop under government plans announced today to “streamline” the system.
Sector leaders have called the proposals “devastating” and a “full-frontal assault on the very idea of lifelong learning” which “fly in the face of the ambition to level up the country”.
A consultation on reforms to technical and academic qualifications at level 2 and below, excluding GCSEs, functional skills and essential digital skills qualifications, has been launched by the Department for Education.
Officials claim the current landscape is “confusing” with around 8,000 qualifications available at these levels, many of which cover the same or similar subjects. For example, there are more than 650 building and construction qualifications at these levels, and nearly 560 in health and social care.
That figure includes nearly 3,700 qualifications at level 2 and below that have already been identified for funding removal because they have low or no enrolments, or on the list of excluded qualifications above.
It leaves around 3,200 ‘in-scope’ qualifications which have just under 600,000 enrolments in this review.
An impact assessment report from the DfE shows it estimates that 72 per cent (c.1,530) of ‘in-scope’ level 2 qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds, 61 per cent (c.1,290) of ‘in-scope’ level 2 qualifications for adults, and 57 per cent (c.640) of ‘in scope’ level 1 and entry qualifications face being axed.
Today’s consultation follows a separate contentious review of level 3 qualifications which proposes to remove funding for most courses – including Pearson’s popular BTECs – that overlap with T Levels and A-levels from 2024.
The level 2 and below consultation does not set out exactly what qualifications are set to lose their funding, but it does shows new “groups” that qualifications will need to fit into in order to survive (see images below).
The DfE said it expects the process for deciding which level 2 and below qualifications will remain to be done in a phased way from 2024 to 2027, starting with reform to qualifications in the construction route at level 2, followed by other level 2 qualifications and finally, in 2027, level 1, entry level, ESOL and PSE qualifications.
Qualifications that may not fit into the proposed landscape include “the smallest qualifications, where they are unlikely to be able to provide a student with the knowledge, skills and behaviours contained in a relevant employer-led standard, or to provide them with broad content relevant to an occupational route”, the impact assessment report said.
The DfE propose not to fund qualifications that are “too narrowly focused only on certain skills, such as plumbing or bricklaying, and do not provide a broad enough introduction to the occupational route, such as construction, to support progression to level 2”.
Qualifications that aim to provide entry into an occupation but where there is “no relevant employer-led standard at level 2″ will also be affected.
The DfE estimates that for seven awarding organisations, 80 per cent or more of their public funded enrolments at level 2 and below are likely to be affected by the withdrawal of funding approval.
Of these, five had more than 1,000 enrolments at these levels. This is out of more than 120 awarding bodies that are offering government-funded qualifications at level 2 and below.
Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, slammed the government for its plans.
“Only a top-down Whitehall technocratic exercise would come up with the idea that people can be fitted neatly into three boxes called qualification types,” he said.
“Of course, we’ve always recognised that some rationalisation would be necessary. No qualification is set in stone. But the government has simply got the scale and scope of this policy wrong. The reforms will deny opportunity to thousands of people – young and old.”
He added that the process of approving qualifications for funding and aligning them with “bureaucratic” standards that will apply in England only, is going to be “hugely cumbersome and costly for taxpayers” and FE providers.
Bewick predicts many providers will be forced to go out of business and student choice will be “adversely affected”.
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, also condemned the plans.
She said: “The proposals in the government’s consultation on level 2 and below will have a devastating impact on social mobility.
“As well as having a damaging impact on training providers, these plans will increase the adult skills gap and mean employers struggle to find the right people they need to fill employee vacancies. The proposals fly in the face of the government’s ambition to level up the country.”
But defending the reforms, skills minister Alex Burghart said: “We are delivering qualifications designed with employers that give students the skills the economy needs. The consultation we are launching today is the next step in making that change a reality.
“We are already rolling out T Levels and reviewing thousands of technical qualifications to make sure they are fit for purpose. We want to make sure all qualifications are high-quality and help people progress in life and work.”
In a previous call for evidence the DfE consulted on proposals to remove post-16 funding from level 2 ICT user qualifications and level 2 ICT functional skills qualifications.
The department confirmed today that it would proceed with this proposal and will remove funding for new starters from August 2022. The full list of those being defunded can be found here.
A deadline of April 27 has been set for responses to the level 2 and below consultation.