Educational choices at 16+ vis-à-vis T Levels and Apprenticeship

18 Aug

I        The Wolf Review

Readers will recall that in October 2010, Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, asked Alison Wolf, the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College, to carry out an independent review of vocational education for the 14-to-19-year olds – especially how it could be improved to promote successful progression into training routes, higher education and the labour market.

The review focused on

(i)         institutional arrangements;

(ii)        funding mechanisms including arrangements for who bears the cost of qualifications;

(iii)       progression from vocational education to work, higher education and higher-level training; and

(iv)       the roles of the third sector, private providers, employers and awarding bodies.

Wolf’s key recommendations were as follows.

(i)         Young people should be given incentives to undertake the most valuable vocational qualifications pre-16, with the removal of many vocational qualifications that existed to the detriment of core studies.

(ii)        The government and providers should introduce principles to guide young people on study programmes leading to post-16 vocational routes to ensure that they were gaining skills which led to progression in a variety of jobs or further learning, so that those who had not secured good passes in English and mathematics GCSEs continued to study these subjects.

(iii)       The government was to ensure that there was a system for evaluating the delivery and content of apprenticeships so that young people had the right skills in the workplace.

(iv)       The government was also to ensure that the regulatory framework moved away from accrediting qualifications to regulating awarding organisations.

(v)        There was to be a requirement that all qualifications offered to the 14-to-19-year-olds fitted within the Qualifications and Credit Framework because its absence had had a detrimental effect on their appropriateness and left gaps in the market.

(vi)       FE lecturers and other professionals should be permitted to teach in schools, to ensure that young people were being taught by those best suited to do so.

II       The Sainsbury Review

The government accepted most of the Wolf recommendations and followed it up with the Sainsbury Review on the provision for technical education.  On July 8, 2016, the government published its Post-16 Skills Plan and Independent Report on Technical Education based on the Sainsbury Review.  It accepted the 34 recommendations made by the review body.   As a consequence, the following arrangements apply.

(i)         Students must choose between the “academic option” – comprising A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree, or the new “technical option” at the age of 16. This has meant the end of 16-18 students being able to opt for a smorgasbord of academic and vocational qualifications. For learners, however, there will be the option of switching between the two routes after completing A-levels or equivalent qualifications.

(ii)        In the “technical option”, students will embark on one of 15 technical education routes:

  • Agriculture, Environmental and Animal care;
  • Business and Administrative;
  • Catering and Hospitality;
  • Childcare and education;
  • Construction;
  • Creative and Design;
  • Digital;
  • Engineering and Manufacturing;
  • Hair and Beauty;
  • Health and Science;
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting;
  • Protective Services;
  • Sales, Marketing and Procurement;
  • Social Care; and
  • Transport and logistics.

Each route or cluster of related studies will have a technical qualification at level 2 and another at level 3. Awarding bodies, or consortia of awarding bodies, will follow a bidding process to be given the licence to deliver each of these qualifications.

(iii)      At college, every programme will include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills, as well as “specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations”.

(iv)       Following this, the pathways would lead on either to level 4 or 5 higher technical education programmes, degree apprenticeships or higher apprenticeships. There will also be the option in some cases for “bridging provision”, which leads to an undergraduate degree.

(v)        The new Institute for Apprenticeships’ remit has been expanded to encompass “all technical education at levels 2 to 5”. It is responsible for bringing together expert groups to set the content and standards for each of the 15 routes.

(vi)       The Institute is in the process of reviewing all existing apprenticeship standards to ensure there is “no substantial overlap”.

(vii)      Each qualification at levels 2 and 3 will be awarded by a single awarding body or consortium “following open competition”, rather than the current market, which sees awarding bodies competing with one another. There will be one qualification for each occupation (or cluster of related occupations).

(vii)      There is a single set of “exit requirements” with minimum standards in maths and English for both college- and work-based provision. Each college student is required to complete a “high-quality, structured work placement”, and complete a logbook to demonstrate what tasks s/he has undertaken and what has been learned.

The government admitted – following the Wolf Review – that standards and qualifications were not always set by actual employers, but often determined by a confusing mixture of awarding organisations and intermediary bodies, which had not provided an effective voice for business. There had been too many overlapping and often low-value qualifications, which did not ensure a clear line of sight to the world of work.  The system was complex and difficult to navigate for both young people and adults looking to retrain.

It acknowledged that the country had too little dedicated technical education at higher levels to meet the nation’s need for technician-level skills and programmes were not always designed to deliver what was needed to move to skilled employment.

The thrust of this development is that students aged from 14 to 19 will need to choose between one or two pathways – the academic and technical.  The Post-16 Skills Plan and Independent Report on Technical Education recognises that learners who have chosen a particular pathway at 16 may want to change their plans later; accordingly, there is a recommendation for bridging provision to allow movement between the two.

The technical route offers two types of learning – one which is college-based [a term that includes schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and training providers] and the other employment based.  The two pathways accept that not all learners will have access to apprenticeships.  They will be aligned, however. There will be flexibility of provision – sometimes being delivered at college and at other times in an employment setting.

The report acknowledges that all learners will not be ready at 16 to embark on a technical journey or start on a level 3 qualification – consequently proposing a transition year for them. However, more work needs to be done about what this would mean in practice.

For these plans to achieve fruition, high quality careers advice and guidance for learners will be necessary so that they are made aware of the options open to them at 16.  Ofsted has found that schools/academies are falling short on providing this advice, probably for good reason, i.e. the lack of resources.

In addition, there has be sufficient provision with specialist and up-to-date expertise and facilities to deliver the courses.

The timeline for the changes are as follows.

(i)         October 2017 – first standards in two routes are approved.

(ii)        February 2019 – new qualification for those two routes are approved.

(iii)       September 2019 – first teaching of new qualifications.

(iv)       September 2021 – first certificates issued on successful completion.

(v)        September 2022 – all 15 routes are available.

III     Reflections

Nick Boles, the former Minister of State for Skills, said: “Technical education remains the poor relation of academic education”.  The choices – pre-Wolf – were confused and confusing, and links to the world of work tenuous and fragile.  The UK is well behind its international competitors, and despite the rhetoric of Brexit, have been saved by the influx of foreign (especially EU migrant) expertise.  The economic case for reform of the skills system is very compelling to bring “training for young people and adults in line with needs of business and industry” so that productivity can be improved, but more important, young people can live full lives.

We now have a proper skills plans and momentum to give it flesh and blood.  Will the culture of the country (“culture” being defined as “how we do things here”) allow it to take shape?

This has come none too soon.  In a report produced by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) and seen by The Times’s reporter, Katherine Griffiths, “the number of “overeducated” workers has increased by a third in the past decade but companies are failing to make use of the skills of their staff”.   IPPR avers that the mismatch between training and what employers find useful could stall productivity by another 10 years.

Senior Research Fellow at the IPPR, Joe Dromey, said: “Employers aren’t using their employees’ skills or investing in them enough, and we’ve seen productivity and pay stall.” He called for a “radical plan to transform our skills system”, which would replace the government’s apprenticeship levy with a “productivity and skills” levy, set at 1% of payroll for larger companies, to raise £1 billion.  IPPR proposed that the focus on skills should be driven by a minister of state working between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Dromey added that the changes “would give workers a voice in the system, helping them take control of their careers. This won’t be easy to do, but tinkering with the current failing system just won’t cut it anymore”.

Seamus Nevin, of the Institute of Directors, said: “The UK has long lagged behind our competitors in adult skills and training. Four in ten Institute of Directors members report the lack of appropriate skills in the workforce as their biggest barrier to growth.”

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