Skills reform

DfE updates incorrect level 3 review impact assessment

Potential scale of the impact of the reforms has now changed

Potential scale of the impact of the reforms has now changed

20 Jul 2022, 11:13

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The government has updated a report that outlines the impact its controversial reforms to level 3 qualifications will have, after the original was based on incorrect data.

Officials have stressed that the revisions do not change the direction of policy travel, which includes defunding applied general qualifications such as BTECs that overlap with T Levels, but the changes do affect the potential scale of the impact.

The revisions show a marginal decrease in the proportion of government-funded qualifications currently available at level 3 that may be axed. But level 3 qualifications for adults face a slightly bigger impact than first estimated, while more awarding organisations will also be damaged.

But the Sixth Form Colleges Association warned that this updated impact assessment “still shows that a significant proportion of level 3 qualifications are unlikely to feature in the future landscape”, which doesn’t square with ministerial promises that only a “small proportion” of will be removed.

What went wrong?

The DfE published the original ‘review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England: impact assessment’ in July 2021.

But this was based on an “incorrect cohort of 16- to 19-year-olds”, rather than the latest available data.

A new baseline list now covers qualifications approved for government funding in scope of the review in the 2019/20 funding year, as of May 2020.

And the enrolment, and associated characteristics, data has been updated from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

Slightly better outlook for 16- to 19-year-olds…

The previous impact assessment concluded that around 60 per cent of qualifications currently available at level 3 “may not fit into the future landscape for young people”. These qualifications represented 16 per cent of all 16 to 19 enrolments at level 3, and 62 per cent of non-A level enrolments at level 3.

Based on the revised mapping, the DfE now estimates that a slightly smaller proportion – around 54 per cent – of qualifications for young people at level 3 may now be defunded. These qualifications represent around 12 per cent of all 16 to 19 enrolments at level 3, and 40 per cent of non-A level enrolments at level 3.

…but a slightly worse outlook for adults

The original impact assessment concluded that of technical qualifications at level 3 that are available through adult funding streams, around 31 per cent may not fit into the future landscape. These qualifications represent 19 per cent of adult enrolments on technical qualifications at level 3.

But the revised estimate shows that 33 per cent of qualifications currently available to adults at level 3 may no longer be available.

No change to proportion of students unable to access level 3

The impact assessment previously estimated that around 4 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds currently studying at level 3 may not be able to progress directly to level 3 following the reforms.

Repeating the same methodology using the revised mapping of current qualifications to the updated 2019/20 data, this leads to a “reduction in this estimate”. However, this reduction is “relatively small, and is lost within the rounding”.

A few more awarding bodies will be hit

Based on the first indicative mapping exercise, the reforms could have reduced up to seven awarding organisations’ publicly funded 16 to 19 year old enrolments by 80 per cent or more.

Using the same methodology, but with the updated data, the DfE now finds that up to 10 awarding bodies, out of more than 130, could see their publicly funded 16- to 19-year-old enrolments at level 3 and below fall by 80 per cent or more. Four of these AOs have over 500 government-funded 16 to 19 enrolments at these levels.

Black students no longer expected to be highly affected by reforms

The previous impact assessment concluded that 16- to 19-year-olds from SEND (special educational needs and disability) backgrounds, black and Asian ethnic groups, and males could be particularly impacted by the proposals. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds could also be particularly affected.

Based on the revised mapping, this assessment “remains broadly the same”, with those from SEND backgrounds, Asian ethnic groups, disadvantaged backgrounds, and males disproportionately likely to be affected.

But following the “additional flexibility on the future academic landscape, and the accompanying updated mapping and data”, students from black ethnic groups are “no longer anticipated to be disproportionately highly affected.

However, those from white ethnic groups are “now slightly more likely to be impacted”.

Revised impact assessment still concerns colleges

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “This updated impact assessment still shows that a significant proportion of level 3 qualifications are still unlikely to feature in the future landscape. This is hard to square with the government’s assurance that only a ‘small proportion’ of qualifications will be defunded.

“As applied general qualifications have only recently been reformed, and many will be scrutinised through the T Level overlap process, they should not have to go through a further approval process.

“The uncertainty created by this interminable review process is very unhelpful, and the sooner it is brought to a conclusion, the better.”

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