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Proposals Launched to Boost the Quality and Uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications
July 8, 2019
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Review reveals how Higher Technical Qualifications can lead to better wages and plug skills gaps

Opaque and misunderstood Level 4 and 5 qualifications are being renamed and revamped under plans unveiled  (Monday 8 July) by Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Level 4 and 5 qualifications – lesser known qualifications that sit between A Level (Level 3) and degrees (Level 6), such as CertHE, DipHE and foundation degrees – will be rebadged as Higher Technical Qualifications and quality approved, in a drive to attract more students to study them.

Despite research showing Higher Technical Qualifications can lead to better wages and provide the skills in demand in the future job market, only around 1 in 10 adults in England hold them – one of the lowest rates in the OECD. Of the 4,000 qualifications offered, research shows that over 40% of these only have 5 students or even fewer on them.

Recent research has also revealed that students who gain these qualifications in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects can earn up to £5,000 more a year than people with degrees from many universities.

The CBI have predicted that in 5 years’ time almost half (47%) of all employment will be in management, professional and technical roles – boosting demand for the specialist skills that Higher Technical Qualifications provide.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

Education Secretary, Damian Hinds

Employers across the country are crying out for more computer programmers, engineers, electricians and technicians in fields from advanced manufacturing to healthcare. But the evidence shows that despite these qualifications putting people in prime position to take advantage of that demand and the opportunities for better wages and better prospects – not enough people know about them.

That needs to change. To help that change we need to make sure these courses are high-quality, lead to good jobs and that people know about them. We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes, but we can make sure the options out there are clear and high-quality so students and employers know and trust that they will give them the skills they need.

This overhaul is part of Mr Hinds’ radical shake-up of technical and vocational education, so students and employers understand Higher Technical Qualifications and see them as high-quality and valued alternatives to a traditional academic route.

To boost uptake of these qualifications and ensure they are of a high standard the Government has outlined proposals including:

  • Reviewing Level 4 and 5 Qualifications – ensuring they are of a high-quality and lead to well-paid jobs – and awarding a new quality mark for all approved Higher Technical Qualifications so students and employers can be confident courses provide the skills they need
  • Ensuring that approved Higher Technical Qualifications are only available with access to student finance at high-quality further and higher education providers – so that students know the qualifications they get from these institutions are prestigious and highly valued by employers
  • A new public campaign working alongside employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of career opportunities that studying a Higher Technical Qualification can open up

To be internationally competitive and develop the skills our economy needs to drive growth, more people need to gain these Higher Technical Qualifications. In Germany, where productivity levels are 25% higher than in the UK, leading to better wages and prosperity, one in five adults holds a qualification to this level.

Today’s plans build on the action already underway to transform technical and vocational education in this country. This includes the introduction of new T Levels from 2020 – technical alternatives to A Levels – and the creation of more high-quality apprenticeship opportunities.

Higher Technical Qualifications will provide a natural progression route for young people taking new T Levels from 2020 or A Levels (Level 3) enabling them to take the next step up and gain higher technical skills in key subjects like STEM.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

There is increasing demand from business for skills at all levels, so it’s vital the education system keeps pace with the changing world of work.

It’s terrific to see a focus on level 4 and 5 qualifications. This ‘missing middle’ has been overlooked for too long, and yet for many employers it can provide the skills by bridging a gap between A levels and degrees.

The CBI encourages more flexible routes to higher skills. Ensuring firms have confidence in these qualifications is critical, so an increased role for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Office for Students to oversee and kitemark quality on behalf of employers will be welcomed.

Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said:

We welcome the findings of this review into higher technical qualifications. It’s vital for future generations and for the economy, that education and training at all levels are readily accessible. Small firms tell us that technical skills are the most important skillset to achieving future growth. However, many small businesses are still unaware of the potential training possibilities that are available to meet the technical skills gaps they face. We want to work with the Government to change this.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said:

In the word’s best technical education systems, higher technical qualifications play an essential role in equipping people with the skills that modern industry and business need. In England, however, this ‘missing middle’ of technical education has been neglected for decades. As a result, we now see a significant mismatch between the skills that our economy needs and the qualifications on offer.

I warmly welcome these plans for reform. Qualifications bearing the new, government-backed quality-mark will have met employer standards, be taught in excellent institutions and align with apprenticeships. In this way, employers and students alike can be confident that they have real value in the labour market.

Higher technical courses are offered at universities, FE colleges and National Colleges – such as the London South Bank University and the National College for Nuclear. The Government’s network of Institutes of Technology – unique collaborations between universities, FE colleges, and leading employers – will also specialise in delivering quality Higher Technical Qualifications and training in STEM subjects, such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering that will provide employers with the skilled workforce they need.

The Level 4 and 5 review will complement the Government’s Post-18 review, to ensure the system is joined up, accessible to all and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. This is central to the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, which aims to make sure everyone is equipped for the jobs of the future.

The Government is also reviewing post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below to make sure that all qualifications taken by students are high quality and lead to employment or further study.

Speech to AELP Annual Conference 2019 by Phil Beach CBE from Ofqual
June 27, 2019
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I’m delighted to be here to talk about ensuring quality – not just in T Levels, but across the range of regulated qualifications, including apprenticeship End Point Assessments.

Ofqual places a premium on high quality and assessment validity. Our statutory objectives include securing and maintaining qualification standards and promoting public confidence in them. We take this very seriously.

Phil Beach CBE

Ofqual is, of course, particularly in the public consciousness over the GCSE and A level exam season. But I am always keen to stress that our assessment and regulatory expertise is equally applicable to vocational and technical areas.

Whatever type of qualification – or indeed End Point Assessment – there is a judgement to be made about knowledge, skills and behaviours. How that assessment is designed, developed, and delivered has to be right – for the subject or skill area, and for those who will use and depend on the qualification result. The same principles of validity apply whether an academic or vocational assessment – but of course the assessment approaches vary.

Fairness

We regulate on behalf of users, which is a broad church. It includes employers, higher education establishments and training providers. But of course it also includes learners; whether a student in school, an apprentice or an adult learner. We work to secure consistent and reliable assessments and to ensure fairness.

Fairness includes making sure assessments cover the expected content and are clear and error-free, that marking is completed on time and is of high quality, and that grade boundaries are set to fairly reflect the demand of the paper.

Fairness means designing qualifications so that they are accessible to the full range of students who will take them, and that the requirements are clear to all teachers and trainers. This includes making sure that students who need them have access to enlarged or Braille question papers, or a scribe, or other reasonable adjustments.

It means dealing with any malpractice that might give some students an unfair advantage over others. And it means taking account of any serious disruption or other events which might affect individual students’ performances on the day.

Ofqual is focused on making sure the qualification system is fair for everyone, so that they’re competing on a level playing field. This is important if students, parents, teachers, trainers, employers and universities are to have confidence in results.

T Levels

When it comes to regulating the Technical Qualification that sits within T Levels, we will be working with the same seriousness and focus that we regulate GCSEs and A levels. To do this, we have taken the opportunity to introduce tailored rules that we have put in place for these new, high stakes qualifications that will operate in parallel with the Institute’s contract management process.

But regulating with the same seriousness and focus as General Qualifications doesn’t mean treating them the same – both our approach, and the design of the Technical Qualification – enables appropriate tailoring of the assessment to the subject content that has been set by employers, through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (‘the Institute’).

I want to stress this point because Ofqual is sometimes accused of “over-academising” assessments, and I want to put this misconception to bed. It’s important to recognise that Ofqual is not a content-setting body. In the case of T Levels, the subject content is – quite properly – being set by panels of employers, through the Institute. Ofqual’s role at this stage is to ensure that the content could lead to a qualification that will support valid outcomes. It is not to determine how academic the subject matter is.

We can – and do – encourage flexibility. So for Technical Qualifications there is flexibility in terms of the size of the core versus the occupational specialism. There is flexibility within the core, in terms of the weightings for the core exam and the core project.

And of course there is flexibility in the assessment methods for practical tasks. Validity requires the most appropriate form of assessment to be used for each Technical Qualification – we should expect to see a variety of approaches, much as we do in the apprenticeship End Point Assessments we regulate.

As you’d expect, we are working closely with the Institute to bring together our respective expertise and maximise the different levers available to our organisations. The Institute is running tenders to select awarding organisations to deliver Technical Qualifications. And the Institute will subsequently approve each qualification to ensure it meets employers’ needs and the requirements of the contract.

From an Ofqual perspective, we have consulted on and introduced Technical Qualification-specific rules, including issues like the number of assessments, timing, retakes, marking, recognition of prior learning and reviews of marking, moderation and appeals.

We are using materials from the tendering process to inform our recognition decisions. As you’d expect, we’re looking hard at each organisation to be sure that they have the capacity and capability to deliver the Technical Qualification, should they win the contract.

And we will be accrediting the Technical Qualifications, employing our assessment expertise to consider them from the perspective of our rules, which dock with the Institute’s contractual requirements.

Our rules are intended to help secure appropriate comparability, and to ensure that there is a consistent level of demand across all Technical Qualifications. Employers – through the Institute – will be setting the initial grade standards, and Ofqual will regulate to maintain those standards over time and across the cohort. Simply put, our aim here is to ensure that a candidate would get the same grade for a given performance, whenever and wherever the assessment is conducted.

This approach, where we consider the fitness for purpose of the awarding organisation as well as the lifecycle of the qualification they propose to deliver, is a tried and tested method. We have seen the importance of checking quality at the start, through accreditation and technical evaluation. And we have learned much from monitoring how the assessments run in practice. We are experienced in using the full range of our regulatory levers to keep things on track and have applied it across the range of qualifications we regulate.

Functional Skills qualifications

Reform offers a great opportunity to build in quality and for Functional Skills qualifications, I hope you’ve been following our regular updates on how the new English and maths qualifications are progressing through our technical evaluation process. As you’ll be aware, first teaching for the new versions is this September. Our focus is now on a safe transition from old to new and you should all be preparing for the removal of old versions.

We are keen to ensure that colleges and training providers have all the information needed to prepare, so we have published a range of resources and links on our website. We have encouraged awarding organisations to publish specifications and materials to help with preparation, in draft if necessary.

I do want to remind you that the last date for registering learners on the current qualifications is 31 August, and after that all new registrations must be on the reformed qualifications.

A regulated approach to apprenticeships EQA today

And we take equal interest in our regulation of apprenticeship End Point Assessments. Back in 2017, we first published a document setting out our approach, and the regulated approach to External Quality Assurance is now really well established.

At every stage we are focused on meeting the needs of employers and protecting the interests of apprentices. We have engaged proactively and reactively to ensure these outcomes. In May, we presented to the Institute’s Quality Assurance Committee what we have found from our External Quality Assurance activity thus far.

We set out our view that you need to build in quality and validity at the start. We see evidence that comparability between End Point Assessments (EPAs), developed and delivered by different End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) against specific standards, can diverge.

Where assessment plan design allows for variances in approach there is a risk to consistency for that EPA. We’ve employed an ongoing programme of technical evaluation of EPA materials, working with sector experts to identify and mitigate these divergent approaches.

We can also see that the EPA market is maturing – though not necessarily in ways that we might have expected. Currently, fewer EPAOs have put fewer EPAs on our Register than we’d anticipated.

We are also seeing some EPAOs deciding some EPAs are not sustainable for them, and looking to withdraw from that part of the market. We are clear that apprentices should not be left high and dry. So where necessary we are intervening to protect the interest of learners by steering the pace or sequence of withdrawals. We will continue to monitor this maturing market closely in support of the Institute.

And EPAOs are responding to the changes and challenges of this new market.

Established awarding organisations are taking steps to strengthen their subject expertise so that they can deliver against assessment plans and meet the needs of specific sectors and industries.

And a variety of new organisations are looking to rise to the challenge of providing EPAs. Some of these are very niche organisations with evident depth of expertise and influence in their industry and sector. Some are finding the rigours of designing and applying robust assessment methodologies challenging.

They need to be able to demonstrate their capability and capacity to develop all the relevant required types of assessment as specified in the assessment plan. So we have seen them considering how they can develop this and we have supported their thinking and development.

Finally, we can see that our regulatory framework is having a wide influence over the quality of EPAs, across the apprenticeship system. We are seeing the strengths of our Conditions being applied by awarding organisations – wherever and whenever they provide an EPA, and not just where we are the EQA provider.

Looking ahead

So, it is from that evidence base that we should look ahead.

The Institute has the statutory responsibility for overall quality assurance of the apprenticeship programme: that is something we support strongly.

But the EQA options and arrangements are complex. As previously mentioned, the Institute has asked us how we might work as part of an optimised system for EQA, and particularly how we might work with professional bodies and employers.

Our response reaffirms our view that the simplest, most streamlined and consistent delivery of quality assurance for all non-degree apprenticeships would be through Ofqual regulation. We have signalled that we are prepared to extend our role as EQA provider.

Where EPAOs are already recognised members of the regulated community, this can be done quite quickly. Where EQA is currently provided by professional bodies and other groups – we could (and would wish to) – work in partnership with those professional bodies. That way we can combine our assessment expertise with their sector and subject expertise; together we can be more than the sum of our parts.

We have also committed to further developing our EPAO fora, so that they better reflect the depth and breadth of EPAO delivery. We remain committed to sharing best practice.

And finally, we have signalled our intent to extend the reach of our expertise. We intend to introduce a ‘field force’ to look at how assessments are working in practice at the point of delivery.

We’ll be undertaking on-site monitoring of EPAs, to gather intelligence from employers and apprentices and to strengthen the evidence base for our risk-based, targeted interventions. We want employers and professional bodies to be confident that EPAs provide an accurate measure of occupational competence. And we want to ensure that the assessment is fair for apprentices.

This field force will also inform our views of the delivery of other types of qualifications. This is a natural extension of our proposals to strengthen controls over centre-based judgements and the moderation and verification of assessments.

This work started with our evaluation of how Direct Claims Status operates. You might recall that we recently consulted on changes to our rules, and I was pleased to see the warm reception our proposals received from AELP in particular. We’re working through the consultation responses now, and you can expect to hear more in September.

Conclusion

So you can see that the approach we adopt to regulation is geared completely towards securing high quality assessment products that command public confidence, protect the interests of learners and deliver what employers and others need from them.

The messages I’d like to leave you with are that:

We have increased our focus on vocational and technical qualifications, treating them with the same seriousness as GCSEs and A levels.

We recognise the need for flexible approaches to assessment – one size does not fit all and our priority is to ensure validity and fairness.

We are fully engaged in the government’s reforms and believe strongly that regulation plays a critically important role in assuring quality and fairness.

Thank you.Published 25 June 2019

Free Courses and New Qualifications Launched to Boost Essential Digital Skills for Adults
April 25, 2019
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Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton unveils new qualifications based on rigorous national standards to give adults the digital skills they need.

Free courses will be offered to thousands of people to help the 1 in 5 adults with no or low basic digital skills learn how to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

The new qualifications, unveiled on 23rd  April 2019 by Apprenticeship and Skills Minister Anne Milton, will be based on new, rigorous national standards and will be available for free to anyone over the age of 19 from 2020.

They have been designed to help adults learn the essential skills, such as sending emails, completing online forms or using a tablet, that many people take for granted.

Research shows that digital skills have become as important in getting a job and being part of society as English and Maths. An estimated 90% of all jobs in the next 20 years will require some form of digital knowledge, but one in five adults still lack these skills. Read more

T Levels – How to Express an Interest to Deliver
February 18, 2019
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T Levels are new courses coming in September 2020, which will follow GCSEs and will be equivalent to 3 A Levels. These 2-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work.

T Levels will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of around 3 months. They will provide the knowledge and experience needed to open the door into skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship.

Students will be able to take a T Level in the following subject areas: Read more

Qualifications – What Qualifications? Deregulation of Qualifications in England
November 21, 2018
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The following article is by Ann Gravells, Author and Education Consultant.

If you are a practitioner in the further education, training and skills’ sector, it can be confusing knowing which qualification you should hold.Ann Gravells, Author and Education Consultant

I say ‘should’ hold, but you might not need one since the deregulation of qualifications in England in 2013 (there are different requirements for the other nations).

It’s now the responsibility of the individual employer, college or university to make the decision as to what qualifications their staff should hold. However, there might be requirements to hold certain teaching and/or subject qualifications as part of the programme being taught and assessed.

Practitioners are ‘dual professionals’ i.e. they are a subject expert as well as a teacher, trainer, assessor or quality assurer.

Teachers and trainers

The most popular qualifications for teachers and trainers are the:

  • Level 3 Award in Education and Training (AET)
  • Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training (CET)
  • Level 5 Diploma in Education (and Specialised Diploma) (DET).

Read more

Perceptions of Vocational and Technical Qualifications
September 26, 2018
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The results of Ofqual’s survey of perceptions of vocational and technical qualifications in England, conducted from October 2017 to February 2018.placeholder

Call for Evidence Launched on Qualification Fee Information
July 25, 2018
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Ofqual has launched a call for evidence focused on the availability of information about qualification fees in the regulated market. 

Schools and colleges need to ensure value for money including cost-effective purchasing of their qualifications.

Regulated awarding organisations must comply with Ofqual’s rules on making fee information available. These rules currently give awarding organisations significant flexibility, with different organisations making their fee information available in different ways.

If purchasers of qualifications have difficulty making informed choices, this may reduce the incentives for awarding organisations to deliver efficiencies and other changes that will improve value for money.

We want to understand whether the different approaches to making fee information available mean that schools, colleges and other potential purchasers have difficulty comparing qualifications and choosing between providers.

Read more

New GCSEs Gradings: A Guide for Employers, Parents & Pupils
May 24, 2018
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GCSEs in England are changing. From 2017, some exams will be graded from 9 – 1, rather than A* – G. If you’re a parent or pupil, an employer, or work in education, find out how you will be affected

From August 2017, the new qualifications began being awarded with number grades, rather than letters. The new grading scale runs from 9 to 1 instead of A* to G, with 9 the highest grade.

Not all GCSEs are changing at once – English language, English literature and maths were the first to change, with students sitting these exams in the summer of 2017. You can find the list of subjects in which students will be sitting reformed GCSEs in 2018 in these factsheets.

By 2020, all GCSEs in England will be graded using numbers instead of letters. However, most GCSEs taken by students in Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to be graded A* to G. In conjunction with the other regulators, Ofqual, the qualifications regulator in England, has produced guidance which helps explain the differences and similarities between GCSE qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The new scale will recognise more clearly the achievements of high-attaining students, as the additional grades allow for greater differentiation.

Changing from letters to numbers will also allow anyone – for example an employer – to see easily whether a student has taken a new, more challenging GCSE, or an old reformed GCSE. Read more

Lead Employability Practitioner Standard Gets Go Ahead
April 24, 2018
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The IEP is pleased to announce that due to the hard work and tenacity of the Employability Trailblazer Employer Group (ETEG) they have now secured the approval to go ahead and develop the Level 4 Lead Employability Practitioner Apprenticeship standard.

The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) has published the status of the Standard as “In development” on their website, a link to which you can view here 

The journey to this point began in March 2017 and is a culmination of a great amount of discussion debate and collaboration with colleagues in the ETEG. At the heart of the discussion has been a collective passion to develop a standard that is meaningful and that fits the changing landscape of the employability profession in light of the Work and Health Programme and the future needs of a new type of
Employability Practitioner.

Read more

Ofqual Looking for External Experts

Are you looking for a new challenge? 

Ofqual is looking for people to join them as external experts to help their work on qualifications and assessments for GCSEs, A levels, a wide range of vocational and technical qualifications and new apprenticeship end-point assessments.

External experts are invaluable to the work they do to ensure the qualifications they regulate are fit for purpose – making sure they assess the right things, in a consistent way, and can be trusted.

The following is their GOV.UK advert.

Who can be an external expert?

We are looking for people from a wide range of different backgrounds.

You might:

  • be a teacher, practitioner, assessor, examiner or an academic
  • have extensive skills and experience in a particular industry

Please read our Person specification and eligibility criteria – external experts (PDF562KB7 pagesfor full details of the role. Read more