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T-Levels, funding and UAL Awarding Body qualifications - what you need to know

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  • Written byUAL Awarding Body
  • Published date09 November 2021
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Origins Creatives 2021 selected work by Keira Hawkins

This guidance currently applies only to England as administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved responsibility for education policy and funding.

What is happening in England?

The government in England wants to streamline the qualifications system and reduce the number of qualifications available at Level 3. This is in order to simplify the system for learners and employers. The desired outcome is a high-quality system offering a range of options including academic qualifications; technical qualifications; apprenticeships. We are delighted that the government has also recently confirmed that existing vocational qualifications will also continue to be funded if they are high-quality and of value to learners, universities and employers. The effects across the whole education sector are likely to include:

- Many valuable Level 3 qualifications retaining funding in their current form

- Some Level 3 qualifications losing funding in their current form from 2024

- Some Level 3 qualifications are being redeveloped to meet new funding criteria from 2024

- Some vocational qualifications being re-classed as ‘academic’ because they serve a similar purpose to A Levels (e.g. progression to Higher Education)

- The roll-out of newly developed T Levels to a proportion of learners

- The development of high-quality technical qualifications that complement T Levels at all levels including at Levels 4 and 5.

Will UAL Awarding Body qualifications continue to be funded despite T Levels?

Yes, we are confident they will be funded both in the short and long term.

We expect funding for our existing portfolio of qualifications, in their current form, until at least autumn 2024. This is because the initial rollout of T Levels in Craft and Design and Media, Broadcast and Production in 2023 is only open to selected providers, with wider access for providers to deliver from 2024. You can find details of the proposed timeline here.

Details have not been confirmed by the government yet, but by 2023 or 2024 we expect to offer a refreshed and fully funded portfolio of Level 3 qualifications. We intend that these will cover all of the subject areas which we currently offer.

UAL Awarding Body and allies across the creative sector have been lobbying and highlighting the value of our work for some time. We have enjoyed engaging in the debate and promoting to government the value of the creative education sector. We are delighted that, in the explanatory notes recently published to support the passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill through Parliament, the following is stated clearly:

"The government will also fund qualifications which are more similar in size to two or three A levels and which are designed to enable access to specialist higher education (for example, in creative and performing arts). These qualifications will fulfil a role similar to current Applied General qualifications."

In addition, the Government has now indicated broader continued support for Applied General type vocational qualifications alongside T Levels and A Levels where they are of demonstrable value.

The Skills and Education Bill says there will be mainly ‘Academic’ qualifications and ‘Technical’ qualifications on the new system. Are UAL Awarding Body qualifications Academic or Technical?

UAL Awarding Body, with others across education and creative sectors, has consistently lobbied government that this distinction is reductive and that there is a role for Applied General type vocational qualifications. There have now been explicit statements from the Secretary of State for Education that government recognizes the value of qualifications at Level 3 that are not A Level or T Levels and that they will continue to fund these.

One of the stand-out successes of our qualifications is the excellent preparation they provide for progression to high-quality Higher Education in the creative fields. This has always been at the heart of the purpose of our Level 3 qualifications and is born out by the high proportion of students who progress to creative degrees via this route. In light of that, it is possible that most UAL Awarding Body qualifications could be categorised as “academic” for the purposes of the reform programme, but this would have little effect on learners or Centres in practice. It would also not change the experimental and project-driven nature of our approach which integrates theory, knowledge, skills and practice in a way most suitable for progression to HE and creative careers.

Will you still offer qualifications in Art and Design and Creative Media?

Yes. T Levels are being designed as a direct route to employment for specific technical occupations that the current system has not served well, such as specific craft skills-based roles in the heritage sector and specific technical production roles in broadcast media. Our broader qualifications in Art and Design and Media cover a much wider base of learning and progression to HE opportunities that will continue to be of value in the system.

What will your new qualifications be like?

We expect government to publish criteria for the types of qualifications it will fund alongside T Levels, although we do not yet have a timeframe for this. Our development team is already preparing and can react quickly to any requirements. We see this as an exciting opportunity to refresh our portfolio with new, innovative content and ideas.

Regardless of policy changes, we want to ensure our qualifications are at the cutting edge of contemporary creative practices and theories. We also want to reflect an increased focus on social purpose, inclusivity and sustainability in our work. All while nurturing the experimental, non-prescriptive and empowering ethos that tutors and students tell us they value.

What are the benefits of Centres delivering T Levels?

Government expects most FE colleges and other learning providers to deliver T Levels to at least a proportion of their students from 2024. For some sectors, this may account for a high proportion of Level 3 provision at colleges. We think it is likely, however, that for other sectors – especially creative and media – that it will still be in the interests of learners, Centres and industry to maintain a large proportion of Applied General type qualifications at Level 3.

Our initial analysis of long-term funding for T Levels (discounting temporary initial capital funds bids) suggests that most FE colleges are unlikely to be better off delivering T Levels based on current funding proposals and models. While there is a small uplift per student this is likely to be negated by work required to engage, retain and administrate employer placements. Current DfE estimates for the two creative T Levels routes would require the sector to deliver 50,500 work placements of 45 days each between 2023/24 and 2026/27. That is a total of £2.27m work placement days. We would encourage college leaders to look at this issue in detail for their particular circumstances.

It is likely that a realistic mix in the creative sector will be high-quality Level 3 Applied General type qualifications which lead to creative Higher Education, delivered alongside some T Level provision for important technical roles. This would lead to a healthy and balanced mix of educational and progression outcomes, and good diverse funding streams for colleges.

Why doesn’t UAL Awarding Body offer T Levels?

We looked very carefully at whether to bid for the first round of supplier contracts for T Levels. Ultimately we decided that, while they will make a valuable contribution to options available to learners, the terms on which these qualifications must be designed and delivered would restrict our ability to deliver on a wider set of priorities at this time. Therefore, instead of bidding, we have supported the developments by contributing to development panels and conversations with the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The current contract periods for T Levels are 4 years plus one possible extension year. This takes the first offer of creative T Levels to summer 2027 or at a maximum summer 2028, at which time we will review our position

What happened next with funding decisions?

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is working its way through Parliament and into legislation. During this process, many informed and eminent figures from across the political spectrum, including former Secretaries of State for Education, have suggested changes and improvements to the Bill. These have included severe criticism of the pace of the reforms, and the impact on social mobility and learner choice if too many established and successful Level 3 qualifications have funding removed.

It is not yet clear which amendments will stand or be overruled in the House of Commons, but the Bill is expected to pass into law comfortably in some form. We and all awarding organisations then expect, and welcome, clarity from the Department for Education on the criteria by which qualification funding will be judged from 2024 so that we can ensure our portfolio meets those requirements.

What is happening with Level 2 qualifications?

A proposed review of Level 2 qualifications slowed down in 2021. At the end of 2020, the government put out a call for additional evidence about the nature, purpose and value of Level 2 qualifications to which many in the sector contributed insights. The diverse and important role these play now seems to be more clearly recognised by ministers. UAL Awarding Body Level 2 qualifications are overwhelmingly used as a tool for progression to Level 3 for those learners who do not have sufficient other experience to draw on. They are also a valuable re-engagement tool for learners who may have dropped out of the system at Level 2 for personal or social reasons. They also sit well alongside continued learning to achieve minimum requirements in Maths and English. We think Level 2 qualifications are an incredibly valuable part of the system and expect more detail on the intended approach to their reform in coming months.

How could these changes affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Currently, these reforms and the rollout of T Levels do not apply beyond England. We need to see what devolved administrations decide in terms of shaping local systems over coming years but there are currently no plans affecting our existing portfolio.

Devolved administrations are looking at how reforms in England may be of benefit or disadvantage. There are two main concerns we are hearing. One is that qualifications no longer funded in England might be withdrawn completely across the UK by awarding organisations. The other is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may be left with ageing qualifications while England moves to reformed versions and T Levels. Our approach would help to prevent either of these risks. It is our intention to support Centres across the devolved nations with the qualifications from our portfolio which best meet their local needs, although we will seek to encourage uptake of redeveloped qualifications gradually as they emerge from 2024 onwards. We have no fixed timeframe for this at this time and will listen to the needs of Centres, students and policymakers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What happens next?

The precise approach and timeframe for all of these reforms at Level 3 and Level 2 are still to be announced and described in detail by the Department for Education in England. Once we have that information we expect to:

  • See little or no change to UAL Awarding Body qualifications and funding until 2024
  • Maintain funding of existing qualifications beyond 2024 under the new framework where possible
  • Develop a new portfolio of Level 3 qualifications that meet any new funding requirements by 2024 to ensure continuity for Centres
  • Take action on Level 2 qualifications in a similar way but most likely on a slightly longer timeframe in line with government decisions
  • Develop new Level 4 and Level 5 options for creative students.

We think this is an exciting opportunity and will keep our Centres informed every step of the way. Creatives have never been scared of change nor strangers to innovation. We are investing in staff and working up ideas so that we are ready to develop the next generation of empowering and exciting UAL Awarding Body qualifications. And of course, we will be drawing on the views of Centres and students to do that!