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Update: the Future of Creative Qualifications in England

Minimal paintings installation by Andrew Hardy
  • Written byUAL Awarding Body
  • Published date 28 March 2023
Minimal paintings installation by Andrew Hardy

The Department for Education (DfE) have announced detailed plans for reforms to Level 3 qualifications that will have a wide-reaching impact on FE colleges, Sixth Forms and training providers. These reforms affect centres in England only.

DfE have outlined how funding decisions will be made from 2026 for nearly all Level 3 qualifications except A Levels, T Levels and Extended Project Qualifications (which are unaffected). UAL Awarding Body is pleased to see a clear route for the continued funding of qualifications in the creative subjects which primarily support progression to further study, including to higher education. Plans for Level 1 and 2 qualifications that lead to further study (such as UAL Awarding Body’s) are not yet clear, although plans for Level 2 qualifications leading directly to employment have been announced.

All Awarding Organisations must submit Level 3 qualifications they wish to have in the system to DfE for approval to continue attracting public funding from autumn 2026. Any Level 3 qualifications not ratified by this process will be defunded by default in 2026. Across the whole sector and all subject areas it is unlikely that many existing qualifications will meet new design rules.

At Level 3 a choice is offered whether to submit qualifications via a Technical route or as Alternative Academic Qualifications (AAQs). UAL Awarding Body anticipates that its portfolio of Level 3 qualifications will best meet the requirements of the AAQ route, preparing students in the main for further study (although other outcomes are also supported), and we are preparing on this basis.

All the new Level 3 qualifications must meet new design rules, including a requirement that 40% of the final grade is by external assessment. This means that Awarding Organisations will have to define and set assessments for all qualifications, to be delivered under controlled conditions. It is likely that every student’s work must be marked by the Awarding Organisation.

We are pleased that, following much lobbying and evidence, large alternative qualifications will be permitted in the system, especially in the creative subjects. These will be equivalent to 1, 2 or 3 A levels in size and offer an alternative to T Levels and A Levels.

All new Level 3 qualifications must be ready for DfE scrutiny by July 2024, so we are already working with centres and other stakeholders in the sector to redevelop our qualifications. We are exploring models that imitate how a creative practitioner may be assessed in the real world, and we are excited to be working with you to bring fresh perspectives and creative practices into our open and enabling qualifications. We are concerned about the burden on centres of moving large bodies of students, across all subject areas, to external assessment in 2026/27, and will support as much flexibility as the rules allow.

Our Qualification Development team have already started to hold focus groups, where they are sharing our early thinking around our qualifications and gathering your opinions to inform further work. If you are interested in attending a group please email our Qualification Development team at

We also ran a very well attended online update for centres in March, where members of our senior team presented and took questions live. We intend to run a similar session again this autumn so please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

The timeframes and reforms proposed by DfE are challenging, and will have wide-ranging impacts on centres, but we’re looking forward to working with you to be ready with an exciting new portfolio in 2026. We will always offer qualifications designed by creatives for creatives, that deliver positive outcomes for students, inspire teachers and provide the flexibility your learners need to succeed.

If you have any queries or feedback please contact us at

Timeline of the reforms:

  • 2023 January - DfE announce Level 3 and below reforms, including first detail on qualification requirements
  • 2024 July - UAL Awarding Body must submit all newly developed Level 3 qualifications to DfE for approval
  • 2025 June - DfE decision announced on which Level 3 qualifications will be accepted to continue in the system from autumn 2026
  • 2026 August - All existing Level 3 qualifications cease to attract funding
  • 2026 September - new Level 3 qualifications go live
  • 2027 summer - all Level 3 qualification results externally assessed.