Skills minister Robert Halfon has addressed questions from education select committee members today on the future of post-16 qualifications.
The minister, a former chair of the committee himself, spoke on a range of subjects, including T Levels, apprenticeships, careers advice, a British Baccalaureate and traineeships.
Here are a handful of things we learned:
Are traineeships dead?
Following yesterday’s news that traineeships had been scrapped amid low take-up numbers, Halfon told the committee that in fact “they are not being stopped” but only being “integrated into existing programmes”.
He referenced existing work such as skills bootcamps, the T Level transition programme, free courses for jobs and other skills programmes as viable alternatives.
“Traineeships can be carried on, but through the providers, through the further education colleges, because each student gets a study programme and can be offered a traineeship through that,” Halfon continued.
“But the crucial point was the take-up was low, too low, for a national programme, which is why we made the decision it would be better to integrate it with other skills programmes but also offer it if independent providers want to carry on doing so with the study programme.”
“Hybrid” T Level work placements
Halfon confirmed the Department for Education is “looking at allowing hybrid placements” for T Level students’ mandatory 45-day or 315-hour work placements.
That would allow students do some placement in person and some online. In addition, he said the department is also assessing whether to let T Level students go to a training facility of the employer rather than on the floor of the business itself.
Halfon also floated the potential in future for AI-based elements to work placements too.
He added: “I would like work experience across all qualifications – one day I hope that will be the case”.
During Covid-19, the department allowed those starting courses in 2020 or 2021 to complete up to 40 per cent of their placement online.
More details for the level 2 and 3 review
Sue Lovelock, the DfE’s director of professional and technical education added more meat to the bone on the next steps for the review of level 2 and 3 qualifications.
In October the government confirmed that 3,240 qualifications from entry level to level 2 were in scope for review, with more than 2,000 of those under threat of being defunded, while level 3s that overlap with T Levels are also facing the chop.
Lovelock said the next step will feature employer input.
She said: “The next phase of the reforms will be undertaken by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofqual, who will use their specialist expertise in using input from employers, in particular, on whether a qualification meets the needs of employers in those areas, and Ofqual’s regulation of qualification specialism in order to make sure of qualification by qualification judgements on whether something is good quality, necessary, and leading onto good progression opportunities for young people.”
That process will be completed by 2025 for level 3s and 2027 for level 2s, she confirmed.
No timeline on British Baccalaureate
Education secretary Gillian Keegan last week told the committee in her first grilling in post that discussions so far had mostly been around the study of maths up to the age of 18, but was “pragmatic” on whether a British Baccalaureate would happen in the remaining two years of parliament.
Halfon told the committee today that he has an “open mind” on it – including on whether it should be called a British or English baccalaureate, but said that the most important factor in the debate will be on whether such a baccalaureate would deliver outcomes for students.
When asked about timescales and whether the department is actively looking at it, he added: “There are discussions going on in the department about these issues, but I cannot give you a timescale at this time.”
Apprenticeship levy reform ruled out again
The question of whether the apprenticeship levy should be reformed to offer more flexibility has been raised countless times, and this morning was no exception.
Halfon said: “We are not planning to make reforms of the levy. I am looking at it in terms of how is it ensuring that disadvantaged students are doing apprenticeships, and also of how it is meeting our skills needs, but we are doing everything possible to increase apprenticeship quality.”