Revealed: 74 qualifications survive 2025 level 3 course cull

Approved 'alternative' qualifications can be funded alongside A-levels and T Levels

Approved 'alternative' qualifications can be funded alongside A-levels and T Levels

16 May 2024, 18:02

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Over 70 qualifications have passed the first cycle of a new “rigorous” approvals process and will survive the government’s controversial cull of level 3 courses.

Skills minister Luke Hall announced 74 qualifications will be funded for young people and adults alongside A-levels and T Levels in the latest milestone of the government’s post-16 reforms.

Awarding organisations had to make a special case for these qualifications to retain funding from August 2025. A key plank of the government’s strategy for school leavers is to steer students towards A-levels or T Levels.

The approved courses can be taken alongside A-levels or T Levels under a new system which ministers believe will “simplify” and “streamline” qualification choices. 

Today’s announcement reveals newly approved qualifications in the construction, digital, education and early years, engineering and manufacturing, and health and science sectors.

Approvals for other subject areas will be carried out in the coming years.

Of the 42 submissions DfE received for new alternative academic qualifications (AAQs), five were withdrawn by awarding organisations and 30 were approved. 

For technical qualifications, which had to be approved against the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s occupational standards, 50 were approved by IfATE with 44 of those then winning DfE approval for funding.

The DfE also published a full list of 318 qualifications in those sectors it will no longer fund from July 31, 2025. 

Keeping it ‘simple’

Alongside A-levels and T Levels, this “simplified” landscape will include a selection of alternative academic qualifications (AAQs), occupational entry qualifications and additional specialist qualifications. 

A 3,500 word “frequently asked questions” document was also published to explain the government’s level 3 landscape to colleges and schools.

Small AAQs, such as BTEC national extended certificate in health and social care, have been approved for students to take alongside A-levels from August 2025. 

Other popular applied general qualifications (AGQs) that will become approved AAQs are the BTEC extended certificated in applied science, IT and engineering and the Cambridge Technical in health and social care.

Approved AAQs range from 180 to 360 guided learning hours so can be taken alongside A-levels. 

However, popular existing larger courses, like the BTEC level 3 national extended diplomas in applied science and health and social care, will be defunded. 

Analysis by the Sixth Form Colleges Association suggests that 17 of the possible 55 AGQs have been re-approved as AAQs.

Technical occupational entry qualifications have also been approved, but most of them will only be funded for adults. The few that will be available to young people were personal trainer and pharmacy technician qualifications – subjects not covered by T Levels.

These qualifications had to pass strict “occupational relevance and employer demand” tests set by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. For the AAQs, awarding organisations had to prove demand and progression to higher education. 

Pressure for Labour

In a written statement to parliament, skills minister Luke Hall, said: “By ensuring that approved qualifications meet new, more rigorous criteria for public funding, young people can be confident that they will be able to progress to university and higher technical education, and directly into apprenticeships and skilled employment.”

Education campaigners, through the Protect Choice Campaign, have condemned the defunding of applied general qualifications (AGQ) and put pressure on the Labour Party to pause defunding if it wins the general election. 

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, announced in 2023 that Labour would “pause and review” the defunding of qualifications but has offered no further information since.  

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association and convenor of the campaign, said: “Ministers made a commitment in Parliament that only a ‘small proportion’ of applied general qualifications like BTECs would be defunded through the level 3 reform process.

“Not content with scrapping popular BTECs, the government has also introduced a new suite of bureaucratic regulations that will remove the freedom of colleges and schools to combine different qualifications in students’ study programmes.”

He added: “But as we head towards a general election, many of these developments appear increasingly irrelevant.

“The Labour party’s commitment to adopt the Protect Student Choice campaign’s recommendation to ‘pause and review’ the scrapping of BTECs means that the government’s plan is increasingly unlikely to be implemented.” 

Spilling the T Levels

Hall’s statement poured praise on T Levels: “Students have gone on from T Levels to outstanding destinations, including moving directly into employment, undertaking higher apprenticeships, or progressing into higher education.”

However, the minister’s statement didn’t mention the government’s review of each T Level in the wake of low student recruitment and high number of dropouts, as reported by FE Week last month.

Catherine Sezen, director of education policy at the Association of Colleges, said T Levels “are not suited to every student who wants to take a vocational qualification at level 3 and the 45-day placement is stretching employer capacity. 

“The modest total of 23,500 student enrolments on T Levels needs to be put into the context of 250,000 young people on current vocational technical qualifications. Even with rapid growth, we expect the total number of T Level enrolments to be less than 100,000.”

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