In part one, we reported on the reform happening in the VTQ space, including how these changes will form part of the government’s levelling-up agenda and increase awareness of technical education opportunities. In Ofqual’s latest annual survey of Perceptions of General Qualifications (conducted in 2022), understanding and trust of Applied General qualifications remained high. Perceptions of these qualifications as good preparation for work and for further study, as well as for developing a broad range of skills also remained consistent.
There continues to be plenty of innovation in the vocational and technical space. Recently, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, outlined plans for a new technical Baccalaureate for 16-year-olds in the region. Despite this update, concerns have been raised, including by this House of Commons Education Committee report (April 2023), that there is actually a risk of a reduction in choice for young learners.
Do proposed changes risk narrowing opportunities?
Since 2017, the number of certificates awarded for vocational qualifications has declined, predictably reaching a low point during the Covid-19 lockdown(s). In late 2022, there was an upturn in certification but the numbers are yet to rebound to the same level as in 2017. The Education Committee report highlights that there must be a longer timeline for evaluating the effectiveness of T levels in “preparing students for progression, meeting industry needs and promoting social mobility” before removing funding to Applied General Qualifications (AGQs).
Within this trend, at Level 3, most sectors have seen a decline in the number of certificates awarded since 2017/18. Combining this with the withdrawal of applied vocational qualifications ahead of the potentially-disruptive T Level rollout could narrow opportunities rather than increase them, the Education Committee argues.
The report raises concerns that “the speed and scope of the Department’s reforms risk constricting student choice, and narrowing opportunities for young people to progress”. 86% of those who responded to the DfE’s consultation disagreed with the proposal to remove funding for AGQs.
The number of students starting an apprenticeship dropped from 447,000 to 300,000 between 2015 and 2020. Alongside this, there has been a shift in the demographic, which has resulted in young learners missing out. Students over 25 have become the majority group for higher apprenticeships (Level 4 and 5) whilst the number of under-25s starting apprenticeships has dropped by 40% since 2014.
Apprenticeships in lower-income areas have also decreased (from 26% in 2015 to 20% in 2020) and increased in more affluent areas (from 14% to 18% in these same years). Only 5% of learners starting a degree apprenticeship in 2020/21 were coming from lower-income areas. In light of this change, the Sutton Trust suggests that the government should stop levy funds from being used to train senior staff; they should be used instead to support young people.
Publishing and resources
Awarding Organisations (AOs) have historically focused on supporting their qualifications with schemes of work and assessment materials, leaving the textbook, revision and delivery support to the traditional publishing businesses. However, AOs seem to be moving towards providing greater support – both ‘free’ and paid-for. This may be a result of lower or more fragmented uptake of qualifications and the continuing squeeze on school and further education budgets.
Currently, Pearson and City & Guilds remain the AOs with the highest number of certificates awarded for vocational qualifications:
|Awarding organisation||Oct 2020 to Sep 2021||Oct 2021 to Sep 2022||Rank Oct 2020 to Sep 2021||Rank Oct 2021 to Sep 2022|
|City & Guilds||551,030||556,475||2||2|
In December 2022, AQA acquired TQ UK, with the express aim of strengthening its vocational provision. Cambridge made a significant foray into publishing for vocational qualifications in schools in 2022, with a range of resources for Cambridge Nationals at Level 1/2.
Further reading and sources
- Statistics service, DfE
- Steve Besley’s Education Eye, EdCentral
- Details of VTQs available, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
- Perceptions of Vocational and Technical Qualifications in England – Wave 5, July 2022, Ofqual
- Perceptions of A levels, GCSEs and Applied General qualifications in England – Wave 21, May 2023, Ofqual
- The Recent Evolution of Apprenticeships, Sutton Trust
- ‘Middle-class grab’ of degree-level apprenticeships intensifies, FE Week
- Why the middle-class capture of apprenticeship matters, Financial Times
- Webinar explanation of T-Levels, Education & Training Foundation and DfE
- The future of post-16 qualifications, House of Commons Education Committee