The government has unveiled plans to introduce ‘Tech-Levels’ alongside A-Levels, which will be endorsed by employers and trade associations.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said that only those advanced qualifications that have the support of businesses or universities will be included in new-look 16 to 19 performance tablets from 2016, for young people taking courses from September 2014.
The changes follow similar action to overhaul school league tables for 14 to 16 year olds, which will see Computer Science added as a GCSE to the EBacc qualification.
For the newly announced Tech-Levels, exam boards will need to demonstrate their qualifications’’ quality by getting support from trusted employers or higher education institutions.
For example, vocational qualifications in IT, engineering, accounting or hospitality, will need public support from professional bodies, or five employers registered with Companies House. These qualifications will be known as Tech-Levels (equivalent to A-Levels).
Vocational qualifications not directly linked to an occupation but providing broader study of a vocational area will need the explicit backing of three universities – these will be known as applied general qualifications (equivalent to AS-Levels).
The changes will mean that at least 80 percent of the 5,000 vocational qualifications currently approved for teaching to those aged 16 to 19 will be removed from the league tables. However, students will still be able to take any qualification accredited for use by Ofqual, as the government still considers some of these smaller courses beneficial if taken alongside a larger, high-quality qualification.
“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,” said Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.
“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.”
He added: “So for the first time we will ensure that exam boards list the employers or universities which support their courses. Only these stretching, strong courses will count in league tables.”
Also, the government has said that to count in the 2016 league tables, the new qualifications will need to be able to demonstrate what they lead to – be it a job, apprenticeship, or further study.
Tech-Levels will also need to involve local employers through work experience or by helping to design courses or assess students.
Tech-Levels will ultimately count towards the TechBacc measure, which recognises the very highest achievements of students taking vocational courses.
Neil Carberry, Director of Employment and Skills at CBI, welcomed the move by said that the government needs to ensure that Tech-Levels aren’t considered second rate to other qualifications and must engage with industry to ensure courses are thorough.
“We’re facing a critical skills shortage in key industries, which risks holding back long-term recovery – that’s why we’ve been calling for tough new vocational qualifications to help bridge the gap.
“The litmus test is that Tech Levels offer the gold-standard training that employers want, while not being seen as second-class. Courses must have stretching subject knowledge; rigorous assessment; hard-nosed practical experience; and be a stepping stone to a great career,” he said.
“It's right that businesses will have a strong voice in Tech Levels’ design but they need to command respect across entire sectors. We must make sure the approval process can show broad industry backing, using subject panels and sector bodies - not just a handful of firms.”
He added: “The new system must be very clear about which provision is deemed ‘occupational’ and which is to be ‘applied general’. Perception is all with qualifications, so we must avoid a two-tier system, where one is seen as too narrow and the other as too broad. We want to see the more rigorous Tech-Level brand extended to both.”
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