FAB writes to the education secretary and MPs, welcoming rethink on quals reform

November 16, 2021

The Federation of Awarding Bodies’ Chief Executive, Tom Bewick, has today (16 November) written to Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education.

The letter said:

“Dear Secretary of State,

I’m writing to enclose the attached research briefing the Federation will be sending to all MPs and peers later this week. 

Firstly, I would like to welcome your announcement in the House of Commons on 15 November that you have decided to push back the defunding of Level 3 qualifications by one year. FAB has been calling for this approach since June 2020. 

This will create the space for the FE sector and your Department to work together on a more sensible roll-out of T-Levels; and to ensure that no learner or geographical part of the country loses out as a result of these ambitious reforms. 

The Federation believes that learners and communities will be best served where the qualifications landscape is allowed to evolve on the basis of innovation and informed market choice for learners. It is a model that has served the national interest well for decades; and the expertise of Awarding Organisations and exam boards are in high demand overseas. 

The international evidence is also overwhelming that world leading systems, like Germany and Switzerland, operate within highly decentralised funding and delivery arrangements. Top-down, state-led systems are far less successful. 

I hope that you and your ministerial team will engage with our research findings, based on official data. It shows that these reforms as currently planned will impact adversely on disadvantaged groups. We support the roll-out of T-Levels. But our findings indicate patchy roll out and social mobility cold-spots when it comes to ensuring the availability of quality industry work placements, in particular. 

Your predecessor, when launching T-Levels, made it clear that what made them “gold standard” would be the direct route into skilled employment. To date, your Department has published no accountability measures for these new qualifications. If other vocational and technical qualifications are to be put through a new “quality bar”, overseen by the Institute, then it is only right that government owned qualifications are held to the same standards. 

We urge therefore a pragmatic approach to implementation. Keep good qualifications at level 3 and below, particularly where they can evidence strong progression outcomes and routes to skilled employment. These criteria need to be published in a transparent way and open to challenge and appeal where a regulated Awarding Organisation does not feel it has been fairly treated. 

We do not feel it is appropriate for the Institute, with its new qualification accreditation powers set out in the Skills Bill, to be able to engage in market manipulation. This remains a major flaw in the legislation. I would encourage you to think about the independent regulatory role that Ofqual plays in the system and how this can be better utilised to ensure all publicly funded qualifications are placed on the same regulatory playing field. 

T-levels are vitally important qualifications. But it is warped thinking, in my view, to believe that one can make a new qualification successful by restricting learner choice and opportunities for other perfectly good qualifications. 

The Federation looks forward to continuing our constructive dialogue with you, your officials and the wider ministerial team.”

Ends.

The press release can be accessed here.