Williamson announces plan to scrap 5,000 qualifications – but will anybody notice?

A consultation on plans to remove funding for more than 5,000 legacy qualifications at level three and below has been launched by the Department for Education.

Those at risk are courses that are currently not being studied by any learners or have cohorts of fewer than 100, and are coming to the end of their three-year operation.

More than 200 BTECs are among the list. The plan is to switch their funding off by August 2021.

Reviewing and removing funding for qualifications with few or no enrolments used to be an annual task undertaken by the Skills Funding Agency, but the last full review of this sort was conducted in 2015.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson believes today’s announcement will help “make sure students have a clearer choice” of what is on offer as there is currently a “confusing” market of 12,000 qualifications at level three and below.

But Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said his members will have few concerns with a “genuine housekeeping exercise” that removes qualifications which are “obviously no longer needed by learners and employers”.

“The vocational training marketplace evolves all the time, so there are bound to be obsolete qualifications on the register that will discontinue in future,” he added.

The DfE claimed that today’s announcement is part of the government’s two-stage review that aims to crackdown on “poor quality post-16 qualifications”, which has been quietly delayed.

The first ‘review of post-16 level 3 and below qualifications’ consultation ran from March to June 2019 and was supposed to be released before the turn of 2020, along with the launch of a second stage.

But the DfE has now told FE Week it will not be forthcoming until at least the spring.

The department wants to make A-levels, T-levels and apprenticeships the “gold standard” option for young people after they take their GCSEs from 2020/21.

It will only continue to fund alternative qualifications at level 3 and below – such as applied generals, BTECs and Tech Levels – that do not overlap with them and are “high quality, are necessary, have a clear purpose, and lead to good outcomes”.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive at the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said he agrees that funding for qualifications with low or no enrolments should have their funding reviewed.

But, he told FE Week, colleges and schools are “much more concerned about an issue that involves a very high number of students – and that is the future of applied general qualifications”.

“Removing funding for unpopular qualifications is one thing, but removing funding for popular and highly effective qualifications like AGQs is quite another, and we will continue to make the case for these qualifications playing a vital role in the future,” Kewin added.

A spokesperson for Pearson, the organisation that offers BTECs, said: “It’s important that the 16 to 19 phase continues to offer young people a range of options to support access for a diverse cohort of learners with differing starting points and requirements – an academic pathway, a career-focused pathway and more specialised occupational routes.”

level 3 adult offer
Tom Bewick

On today’s announcement, Williamson said: “Trying to decide what course will put you on the path to a great career is hard enough, but with over 12,000 qualifications available and many in the same subject – it can feel like a needle in a haystack.

“Removing funding for qualifications that have no or low numbers of enrolments will help make sure students have a clearer choice of the qualifications on offer, and ensure they get the skills they need to progress.”

But Bewick warned: “We know from past experience, that some really adverse effects can arise where a top-down exercise in Whitehall leads to learners being cut off from valuable and relevant opportunities in their local communities.

“There are hundreds of niche qualifications with low enrolments or they serve those with special educational needs, that could be axed by this exercise if government does not proceed with some caution.”

The deadline for submissions to the consultation relating to the 5,000 qualifications (click here to see the full list) is 27 March.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Charles Bedingfield

    This will have a massive impact for the providers delivering to the refugee and immigrant communities. To progress these learners into employment, basic English and either an entry level or level 1 qualification is a vital step to gainful employment and integration into British society.

  2. Rachel Wilks

    This is NOT how you drive up quality. To drive up quality and standards you need to scrutinise the content, not the size and popularity of the qualification.
    The implications and financial risk to awarding organisations are enormous and given that there are “big boys” and “small fry” among these, we could lose some of the smaller awarding organisations through this.
    This could mean job losses. It could mean that qualifications that support learners with Special Educational Needs and physical disabilities disappear.
    It also means that learners will be disadvantaged through lack of choice.
    The way that this was announced – directly to the public and not.pre-released to AOs is an appalling oversight or a deliberate attempt to undermine the Awarding sector.
    Gavin had better hope that he and I never meet or his ears will be ringing with complaints about the way Education is being squeezed back into a “one size fits all” homogeneous box.
    People who were not educated in and do not put their own children through state education are in no to position to make these decisions on behalf of all of us.