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New “tech levels” announced for vocational qualifications

July 9, 2013

Employers and trade associations will be asked to endorse the best occupational qualifications – to be known as “tech levels”, in a move announced by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP on 3rd July. He also 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 will be asked by exam boards to back the best ‘applied general qualifications’, and only those level 3 qualifications which have the support of businesses or universities will be included in new-look 16 to 19 performance tables from 2016, for young people taking courses from September 2014.

Exam boards will need to demonstrate their qualifications’ quality by getting sign-up from trusted employers or higher education institutions:

  • Vocational qualifications which lead to recognised occupations (in engineering, IT, accounting or hospitality, for example) will need public support from professional bodies, or 5 employers registered with Companies House, to be included in performance tables. These 5 must represent the breadth of the relevant sector. These qualifications will be known as tech levels.
  • Vocational qualifications not directly linked to an occupation but providing broader study of a vocational area will need the explicit backing of 3 universities. These will be known as applied general qualifications.

The minister said: “Tech levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education. High-quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity, and the life chances of millions. Because technical education is so important, it is vital the qualifications young people take are stretching, high-quality and support their aspirations. These reforms are unashamedly aspirational and will ensure tech levels help people into apprenticeships and jobs.”

Tech levels will also need to involve local employers either through work experience or by helping to design courses or assess students. Tech levels will count towards the TechBacc and will be reported separately in performance tables to academic qualifications, including A levels and AS levels, the International Baccalaureate and the Pre-U.

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.

Commenting on the proposals, Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said, “The overarching aim of these proposals – namely, the establishment of a route through vocational education that will have parity of esteem with A levels – is laudable, and something for which we have been arguing for a long time. The UK education system needs to be turning out young people with the skills and attributes needed for a successful and enterprising working life. Employers, when asked, often claim that these elements are delivered more effectively by the best vocational qualifications than by A levels or many degrees. It is right, therefore, that increasing numbers of young people should be offered the chance to study prestigious vocational qualifications. And it is good to see an acknowledgement that full-time study of vocational qualifications is an important route for young people to be able to follow.

“Our member colleges will want to be actively involved in the development of new qualifications, but we must ensure we retain the elements of current highly valued qualifications. The announcement that over 80 per cent of current qualifications will be discontinued implies that there is major fault with the current system, and the requirement for 100 per cent of content in vocational qualifications to be externally assessed casts unnecessary doubt on the professionalism of FE teachers. This is simply not true, with both employers and students expressing large-scale satisfaction with the experience they have in FE colleges. We will be doing all we can to make sure that the path to tech levels does not unnecessarily dismantle and devalue the qualifications for which many are currently studying.”


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