New 'tech levels' to raise the quality of vocational qualifications


Technical level qualifications and applied general qualifications have been announced by the government, which employers and trade associations will be asked to endorse.

The technical courses for 16 to 19-year-olds will gain the same status as A-levels from 2014 but only if they attract business or university support.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said it was essential that 16- to 19-year-olds were given clear information about the qualifications which help them get on in life. Universities, meanwhile, will be asked by exam boards to back the best ‘applied general qualifications’.

The changes will mean that only vocational courses that achieve Tech-level status will count in the secondary league tables for 16 to 19-year-olds from 2016. Some 80% of vocational qualifications for this age group will be removed.

Mr Hancock said the reforms would not only strengthen vocational education but also boost the economy by giving young people the skills to fill much-needed shortages in key occupations.

The move has been announced as part of the government’s response to its consultation on the vocational qualifications, which will continue to count in performance tables for colleges and school sixth-forms.

There will be two types of vocational qualification under the new system. Tech-levels will take as long to complete as A-Levels and will need to be endorsed by either a professional association or by five employers registered with Companies House.

These qualifications will focus on hands-on practical training, leading to recognised occupations for example in engineering, computing, accounting or hospitality.

In addition, Applied General Qualifications will take the same time to complete as AS-levels and will focus on broader study of a technical area, not directly linked to an occupation.

These qualifications will need backing from three universities to count in performance tables.

A Tech-level along with a core maths qualification, for example AS-level maths, and an extended project will amount to an over-arching Technical Baccalaureate.

The changes follow similar action to overhaul school league tables for 14- to 16-year-olds.

Tech levels and applied general qualifications will be reported separately in performance tables to academic qualifications, including A levels and AS levels, the International Baccalaureate and the Pre-U. This will mean parents, students and the public in general can judge for themselves how schools and colleges are performing.

The changes will mean that at least 80% of the 5,000 vocational qualifications currently approved for teaching to those aged 16 to 19 will be removed from the tables. However, young people will still be able to take any qualification accredited for use by Ofqual, as some of these small courses are beneficial if taken alongside a larger, high-quality qualification and help young people towards getting a job or university place. The list of qualifications that will count in the 2016 performance tables will be published by the end of the year.

The move follows Professor Alison Wolf’s ground-breaking report into vocational education, in which she said that “at least 350,000 young people in a given 16 to 19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements. Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.”

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