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Seismic changes to post-16 qualifications landscape

Post-16 level 3 vocational qualifications in England are currently undergoing major reform. The post-16 education landscape from September 2025 will look significantly different to the current one. OCR’s article summarises what it means for teachers and post-16 level 3 vocational curriculums.

Post-16 level 3 vocational qualifications in England are currently undergoing major reform. The post-16 education landscape from September 2025 will look significantly different to the current one. OCR’s article summarises what it means for teachers and post-16 level 3 vocational curriculums.

15 May 2023, 8:00

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The post-16 qualifications landscape is changing and will look significantly different to the present one.

The government is clear that the purpose of post-16 education is to support people to move into high-skilled jobs, either directly, or through progression into good quality higher education courses.

So, what does mean for schools, sixth forms and colleges and the students at them?  At present there is a wide range of vocational qualifications, such as Cambridge Technicals and BTECs, available to post-16 students in a variety of sizes and subjects.  To enable their objectives for post-16 education the government is in the process of reforming current post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below. This is happening over three phases.

  • Phase 1- The DfE removed funding from qualifications with sustained low or no publicly funded enrolments in England.
  • Phase 2 – The DfE removed funding for 16-19 qualifications which overlap with T Levels to allow the T Levels to flourish
  • Phase 3 – A new integrated approval process is introduced for qualifications that will receive public funding for first teaching in September 2025. This sets quality criteria for all academic and technical qualifications. Those qualifications that get approved will be those that provide skills for the future and lead to good outcomes.

The reforms mean that most current Level 3 post-16 vocational qualifications will lose their funding by 2025 unless they meet these strict criteria.  From September 2025, post-16 students will have to choose between one of two routes – academic or technical – as they plan their way into higher education or employment.  

The academic route is primarily designed to support progression to further/higher education and would mean studying A Levels.  The technical route is primarily designed to support progression to skilled employment and will mean studying T levels.  It sounds straightforward and certainly streamlines the post-16 curriculum, but what about students that don’t sit comfortably in either route?  

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In the academic route, there will be an option for a mixed study programme comprising A Levels and new Alternative Academic Qualifications (AAQs).  Small AAQs (equivalent in size to 1 A Level) can be taken alongside A Levels, while large AAQs (equivalent in size to 3 A Levels) can be taken as an alternative to A Levels where a subject is less well served by A-Levels and a T Level in the subject doesn’t exist.

OCR understands that no student is the same and we want to ensure all students get the education they deserve and can accomplish their ambitions.  

We will be submitting AAQs for approval in the academic route in July 2023. We will know the outcome for these cycle 1 qualifications (first teach Sept 2025) in July 2024. We’ll also be submitting cycle 2 qualifications (first teach Sept 2026) in July 2024 and discovering their outcomes in July 2025.

Once approved, in September 2025, OCR will be offering Alternative Academic Qualifications (AAQs) in:

CYCLE 1
SubjectSizeFirst teach 
Engineering
Health and Social Care
IT
Science
Small
Small
Small
Small
September 2025
September 2025
September 2025
September 2025
CYCLE 2
SubjectSizeFirst teach
Digital Media
Enterprise
Criminology
Performing Arts
Sport
Small
Small
Small
Large
Large
September 2026
September 2026
September 2026
September 2026
September 2026

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A post-16 study programme for every student

OCR offers over 30 A Level qualifications in a wide range of subject areas and many students already take one or more A Levels alongside vocational qualifications such as our existing Cambridge Technicals. Others also choose to supplement their study programmes with the Extended Project (EPQ) or Core Maths.

The changes to future academic programmes of study are an opportunity for students and centres to consider the knowledge and skills required in the future and we will be providing support and guidance on potential subject combinations for a range of different sectors to aid you with this.  We have worked closely with universities in the development of our AAQs to ensure they provide value to an academic programme.

OCRs AAQs are being designed from the ground up in collaboration with teachers to ensure that they remain an accessible suite of qualifications that suit the needs of a wide range of students and are valued by HEI providers for entry to undergraduate level progression.  We understand that reform can be difficult to manage and keep up to date with so we have created a dedicated website that highlights what is happening and provides key dates to aid you in your planning.

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