Choices choices

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell considers the latest plans by the Department for Education.

Plans to stop funding qualifications that do not provide the same high-quality education as new T Levels and existing A Levels have been published by Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

The move, the Department for Education said, is the latest step in the government’s drive to boost the quality of education and training available to young people post-16, which includes the introduction of new T Levels from 2020 (the technical equivalent to A Levels) and more high-quality apprenticeship opportunities.

A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships will be the gold standard option for young people after they take their GCSEs, but if a student chooses another qualification the government wants to make sure they are as high-quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training.

If a 16-year-old wants to study history, they know they can take an History A Level which is understood and trusted by parents, universities and employers. But if a student wants to study an engineering qualification after GCSEs there are over 200 different options to choose from, leaving them at a loss as to which ones will give them the best chance of getting the skills they need, and leaving employers with no clue as to which qualifications they should be looking for.

To help streamline and boost the quality of education on offer, Damian Hinds has launched a consultation reviewing qualifications at Level 3 and below – excluding A Levels and GCSEs – such as Applied General Qualifications, Tech Levels and Technical Certificates.

“We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes post 16,” Damian said, “but we can improve the quality of the options out there and by raising quality, more students and parents will trust these routes.”

It’s an interesting admission by the government because I imagine many of these courses sprung up in the vacuum left by the absence of the T-Levels – a vacuum that has existed for way too long.

On initial inspection, it sounds like a good idea. I’m all for what Damian calls ‘parity of esteem’. If you are a parent, you know how frustrating it is that vocational courses sit below academic alternatives in the post-16 pecking order. And employers are all too aware – as we’ve been discussing in Glass Times for several months now – that students aren’t attracted to courses that benefit them, or that students emerge at the other end of the education sausage factory requiring further training.
We know of many cases where employers have said ‘enough is enough’ and have gone to colleges to devise their own courses.

And maybe many of these courses emerged from a similar mindset.

However the government chooses to proceed, it must do so in collaboration with employers. Yes, the post-16 landscape needs clarifying, but is also needs to be relevant to the needs of industry.

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