New free digital skills qualifications given ESFA green light but Ofqual proving a barrier

The government has confirmed that free digital skills qualifications for adults will finally be launched from August 1 – but no awarding organisation has yet gained approval to offer them.

Adult education budget funding rules for 2020/21 were published today and include a “legal entitlement to full funding” for “essential digital skills qualification, up to and including level 1”.

It means all adults without basic digital skills will be able to enrol on the new qualifications free of charge in two months’ time.

The sector has been waiting for this rollout since it was first announced by the government in October 2016. It became law in April 2017 as part of the Digital Economy Act and puts the subject on a par with English and maths.

New “national standards” for digital skills have since been created, which awarding organisations (AOs) must use to develop their qualifications.

However, each AO must go through a “technical evaluation” process with Ofqual to ensure they are “valid and fit for purpose” before being made available to colleges and training providers to deliver.

The exams regulator published an update yesterday which revealed that none of the nine AOs developing these qualifications have gained Ofqual’s approval so far.

Ascentis and Gateway are the closest to completing the process, scoring 4 on a 5-point scale (5 being sign off), while Pearson has the lowest score of 1 – which means the awarding organisation is “yet to submit materials to Ofqual for technical evaluation”.

A number of the others appear to have had their qualifications knocked back by Ofqual.

Explaining their evaluation process, the regulator’s update said: “Using a combination of subject and assessment experts, we review the materials submitted by each awarding organisation against our rules.

“These materials include the specification and the sample assessments. We consider issues such as their level of demand, coverage of the Department for Education national standards, and the quality of the questions and the associated mark schemes.

“We also review the awarding organisation’s assessment strategy, the key document in which they explain the approach they are proposing to the design and delivery of their qualification.”

FE Week has asked Ofqual whether they are confident that any of the free digital skills qualifications will be ready for use by August.


[UPDATE: A day after this article was published Ofqual released an update to its technical evaluations page to say that one AO – Gateway Qualifications – has now completed the process.]


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