Post 16 education reforms overview

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The case for reform

The purpose of post-16 education is to equip people with the knowledge and skills required for the jobs of the future. Successive reviews (e.g. Wolf, 2011 and Sainsbury, 2016 - key documents) found that the content of many qualifications was not valued by employers and students remained poorly equipped to enter skilled work. In the future landscape at level 3, we want as many young people as possible to undertake world class A levels and T Levels which will provide the best foundation from which to progress, either into higher education, or skilled employment.

We know that students who take A levels have better outcomes overall in terms of progressing into, and staying in, higher education (HE) than those who study current Applied General Qualifications. New technical qualifications such as T Levels are developed against occupational standards designed directly with employers. This will ensure that the qualifications will contain the knowledge, skills, and behaviours necessary to enable students to advance into skilled employment. At level 2 and below, qualifications will be reformed to provide clearer progression routes to further study and skilled employment, and where applicable will be based on IFATE’s occupational standards so that students can be confident they are gaining the skills that employers need.


What we are doing

The Government is in the process of reforming post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below. We are improving the quality of the qualifications we fund for post-16 learners while strengthening progression pathways, creating clearly defined routes with meaningful qualifications leading to further study and/or skilled employment. This will help students to make good choices, support their aspirations and show clear pathways for their next steps. Employers, colleges and schools will benefit from high-quality qualifications and a clearer skills system, which is based on employer-led standards.


How we will do it

The reforms are happening in 3 phases:

  • In phase 1 of the reforms, we removed funding approval from around 5,500 qualifications with sustained low or no publicly funded enrolments in England.
  • Phase 2 will see funding removed from qualifications which overlap with T Levels from 1 August 2024 and 1 August 2025, to ensure as many young people as possible undertake these high quality qualifications. 
  • Phase 3 is our new funding approvals process during which awarding organisations must submit all alternative academic, technical and non-technical qualifications to be funded at level 3 and below from 2025. This process will happen in several cycles over the next four years.


Who we work with

We work closely with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) and Ofqual in this funding approval process, and together developed the detailed criteria that qualifications will need to meet.

Ofqual has developed additional regulatory rules that the new qualifications need to meet in addition to Ofqual’s wider regulatory requirements. As part of the approval process, Ofqual is reviewing qualification materials and providing feedback on these materials to DfE and IfATE. DfE and IfATE are considering this feedback when making their approval decisions. Approved qualifications will be subject to Ofqual’s ongoing regulation while in delivery. 

Technical qualifications at level 3 and level 2 will also be required to meet new occupational relevance and employer demand tests developed by IfATE. Technical qualifications will be based on the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) set out in the occupational standards co-designed with employers. To find out more about the criteria and approvals categories, see here.

Further details about the reforms to post-16 education can be found in the guide to the post-16 qualifications landscape. To see a diagram showing the outline of the approvals process, please go to the funding manual here.


The future of post-16 education

On 4 October, the Prime Minister announced his long-term plan for introducing the Advanced British Standard (ABS).  The ABS will be a new baccalaureate-style qualification for students aged 16-18 and will bring academic and technical pathways together into a single framework. For more information on ABS, please go here. For information on the consultation, please see here.

Our qualification reform will continue – removing duplicative, low-quality courses, that do not deliver the skills employers need.

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