Qualifications for all?


As we approach the General Election, little has been said by either of the major parties about what will happen to qualifications if they are elected. This is despite the curriculum and qualifications framework having been in place for at least 10 years.

For the Conservative Party we must assume that they will continue to follow their current plans, introduction of the Advanced British Standard, drastically reducing Applied General Qualifications (including BTEC’S) by “removing funding from level 3 qualifications due to overlap with T levels”, and expanding the range of Technical Levels available for 16 – 19 year olds. They have also committed to ensuring that all students continue to study maths and English during KS5, In addition they have announced that they will increase the number of high level apprenticeships available and review what they refer to as ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees.

From Labour there has been an informal agreement to ‘pause and review’ the defunding of AGQ’s but no commitment to reversing the decision to defund many qualifications. However, they have made a clear promise to ensure that all students have access to ‘a broader and richer curriculum’ and to carry out a full review of assessment. Labour alludes to greater emphasis on a broad curriculum with ‘a strong core of literacy and numeracy alongside access to sports and arts subjects’ in addition to ‘ensuring all our children have the digital skills they need’. We await the manifesto to see more detail about what this might actually look like.

One thing that we do know is that for decades now the importance of offering a range of qualifications to meet the diverse needs of all students has been highlighted in reports created for all colours of political parties including the Dearing, Wolf and Tomlinson reports. These collectively highlight the necessity of a versatile qualification framework that meets varying student abilities, interests, and career aspirations.

The Dearing Report (1997) emphasised the need for a balanced curriculum that offers both academic and vocational pathways, ensuring that students who are less academically inclined still have valuable opportunities to succeed and gain practical skills.

The Tomlinson Report (2004) called for a more integrated and coherent 14-19 curriculum, proposing a unified diploma system to bridge the gap between academic and vocational education. This would allow students to mix and match qualifications according to their strengths and interests, promoting a more personalised and flexible approach to gaining qualifications.

The Wolf Report (2011) further advocated for rigorous vocational education, arguing that high-quality vocational qualifications are essential for equipping students with the skills needed in the workforce. Wolf also highlighted the importance of credible and employer-recognised qualifications that offer real opportunities to students entering the job market.

A General Election would seem to be the perfect opportunity for parties to examine how the qualifications framework can best meet the needs of all students in preparing them for successful futures, whether in higher education or employment. Let’s learn from the past as well as looking to the future.

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