Qualifications reform needs rethinking after new research shows value of Tier 2 and lower programs – FE News

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Latest research from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the NOCN Group and the Skills and Education Group (SEG), shows that qualifications at Level 2 and below are overwhelmingly valued by both employers and learners. The report – ‘Access to the Future’ – contains evidence that undermines the justifications used in the government’s proposals for qualifications reform.

Launched in Parliament this week, at an event to celebrate AELP’s 20th anniversarye anniversary, ‘Access to the Future’, is a new report on the value and value of qualifications at Level 2 and below. This important new research has been commissioned following a Department for Education (DfE) consultation which could see funding cut for up to 85% of qualifications at Level 2 and below – rising to 90% of qualifications for youth.

The report found that programs at Level 2 and below produce clear benefits for both learners and the employer. Data from Access to the Future revealed that 90% of learners described Level 2 programs as making them feel knowledgeable. Over 70% of employers agreed or strongly agreed that “people with Level 2 qualifications demonstrate reliable standards of skills and abilities” and “people with Level 2 qualifications have the professional and technical skills.

‘Access to the future’ also describes how disadvantaged groups disproportionately acquire qualifications at level 2 and below. Students who were entitled to free school meals at age 15 are more likely to study Tier 2 and lower programs in FE. The proportion of ethnic minorities in Level 3 programs is 15%, rising to 20% at Level 2 – and more than half at entry level. The reform of these diplomas also risks trying to “level” the country, since students from the most disadvantaged areas represent around 17% at level 3 among 16-18 year olds. This figure rises to 30% at Level 2 and almost 40% at entry level.

AELP reaction to DfE consultation response

The AELP also reacted to the DfE’s response to this spring’s consultation on Tier 2 reform and below.

  • AELP welcomes the acknowledgment by the DfE in the consultation response that there is a need for greater flexibility on qualification provision and study program provision for 16-19 year olds . The original proposals for young people would have lacked flexibility and could have become too rigid.
  • An additional transition year, to ensure that the first teaching of the reformed qualifications starts in 2025 rather than 2024, is a positive step. As it stands, the proposals feature a significant change in program design, so providers will appreciate an extra year to prepare.
  • However, for adults, the government’s response does not address the broader concerns that exist across the sector. As the DfE’s own impact analysis points out, funding tier 2 and below for adults has a serious impact on enrolment. That would equate to 360,000 enrollments – at a time when participation in adult education is already in decline.

Despite some progress following the consultation, the AELP believes that these reforms remain imperfect. They urged ministers and civil servants to work more closely with the skills sector to come up with proposals that truly reflect the value and value of Tier 2 qualifications and below.

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the AELP, said:

“Our new report, ‘Access to the Future’, makes a compelling case for the importance and value of qualifications and education at Level 2 and below. Level 2 qualifications and below lead to entry-level jobs and are often accepted. by those with little or no prior experience. I would like to thank NOCN Group and SEG for their assistance in producing this report, which we launched during our 20e anniversary in Parliament this week.

“Our research is clear: these programs lay the foundation for success in the workplace by creating and developing skills and behaviors beyond what is taught in school and in continuing education.. They are valued by employers and learners alike, and it would be a big mistake to cut funding for programs that do so much to improve social mobility.

Paul Warner, Director of Strategy and Business Development at AELP and co-author of the report, said:

“Qualifications at level 2 and below play a huge role in our skills framework. People join because they want to improve their skills so they can do their job better, have a better chance of getting a promotion, or getting a new job. But people also accept these qualifications for other reasons. Maybe they want to be part of something, they want to find or rebuild their confidence, or they just want to achieve something. Our research shows that these broader factors are valued not only by learners, but also by employers. This must be taken into account, the government is moving forward with plans to cut up to 85% of programs at these levels.

Toby Perkins, the Shadow Labor Minister for Skills, who launched the report in Parliament, said:

“I am delighted to celebrate the 20e AELP anniversary and sponsoring their event in Parliament – they are an incredibly important organization and their contribution is invaluable in addressing the current problem of skills shortages.

“Their latest report ‘Access to the Future’ makes a powerful case for Tier 2 certifications and below. I look forward to learning more about the AELP and its members as they continue to challenge policy makers on this and the many other issues affecting workplace learning.


“Access to the Future” was released on Monday, October 17 at an event to celebrate 20 years of campaigning for an education system that recognizes the value of work-based learning. The report was authored by Paul Warner and Chihiro Kobayashi of AELP and contains nine key recommendations:

  • Policy must be evidence-based.
  • No qualification or progression system should contribute to “learned helplessness” by fostering unrealistic expectations of success.
  • Any government proposal must recognize the reasons and motivations of learners who engage in Tier 2 qualifications and below.
  • The reform should recognize the importance of studying certifications at level 2 in order to recognize basic technical skills and good practices in their own right.
  • Further research should be undertaken to determine why there is a lack of progression from Level 2 by some groups – particularly SEND learners.
  • Understanding the need for certain types of literacy and numeracy skills is far less important than the need to find the right way to teach and assess these skills.
  • Information, advice and guidance (IAG) strategies should only target young people and those who have a major influence on their decisions, such as parents and guardians.
  • The IAG must do more to dispel the idea that professional qualifications are only ‘second best’.
  • Apprenticeships, especially at Level 2, need to align more consistently with DWP compensation rules.

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