Gillian Keegan – 2021 Statement on Level 3 Qualifications Reform

The statement made by Gillian Keegan, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 14 July 2021.

Today, I am pleased to announce the next stage of the Government’s reforms of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England.

Reforming post-16 education and skills is at the heart of our plan to build back better and level up the country by ensuring that students everywhere have access to qualifications that will give them the skills to succeed. We have already improved the quality of level 3 study by reforming A-levels, redeveloping apprenticeship standards and introducing T-levels. This work is vital to the reforms and will create a coherent system in which all classroom based qualifications that sit alongside A-levels and T-levels are good quality.

These reforms build on the Skills for Jobs White Paper, which set out our ambition to improve the opportunities for young people and adults to progress into skilled employment by linking technical qualifications to employer-led occupational standards. These standards form the core of new T-levels and the reforms published today will ensure that this will also be the case for other technical qualifications on offer at level 3.

High-quality qualifications are essential to helping everyone, whatever their age, to get good jobs and realise their ambitions. Whether they want to go into skilled employment or into higher education (HE), achieving a level 3 qualification will be an important stepping stone. The system also needs to be adaptable, so that we train people for the jobs of the future.

We are grateful for the thoughtful contributions to our second-stage consultation on level 3 qualifications, and for the high level of interest in these important issues. Though our goal of a slimmed-down, higher-quality system remains the same, we have listened carefully to feedback on the range of qualifications that are needed. Our policy statement sets out where we see the value in qualifications that can be taken as part of mixed study programmes alongside A-levels, as well as the limited range of subjects where it is justified to take specialist alternatives, such as in performing and creative arts.

Our reforms are bold and will lead to significant change from the current system. We continue to be unapologetic about both the need and our commitment to raise standards in technical education, as we have already done for GCSEs, A-levels and apprenticeships. It is vital that in a fast moving and high-tech economy technical education closes the gap between what people study and the needs of employers. We are proposing to put many of these changes into law through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

We will streamline and improve the quality of the level 3 system. We are strengthening the pathways to progression, creating clearly defined academic and technical routes with qualifications leading to academic study, and/or skilled employment. This clarity of purpose will allow students to see more easily how their study will help them to progress.

We will ensure that all qualifications sitting alongside A-levels and T-levels provide progression for learners, respond to the needs of employers and meet rigorous quality standards. Funding approval will be removed for technical qualifications overlapping with wave 1 and 2 T-levels from 2023, and with wave 3 and 4 T-levels from 2024. We have listened carefully to feedback on the pace of implementation of these reforms and will phase the introduction of reformed qualifications, starting with a digital pathfinder for introduction from 2023, scaling up in the following year and completing the reforms by 2025.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the institute) and Ofqual will work to ensure that qualifications approved for funding are high-quality, meet the needs of employers, and stay up to date with our evolving economy. The Education and Skills Funding Agency will continue to have overall responsibility for funding decisions.

We also recognise that getting a quality offer at level 2 and below is key to making sure that students have clear lines of sight to level 3, apprenticeships, traineeships, and directly into employment. As a result, we want to improve study at level 2 and below alongside our reforms to level 3 qualifications. We are considering feedback to the call for evidence which ran from 10 November to 14 February and will consult on proposals for reform later this year.