Here are some of the main bullets from the Post 16 Skills Plan in England with some Scottish reflections. It would be good to see some innovative thinking in this space in Scotland. You can read both the Sainsbury Report and the Post 16 Skills Plan here
The Sainsbury Report is a big read but the significant follow up published on same day is the Post 16 Skills Plan.
This is not all happening next year - the system is to be fully in place by 2022.
I don't agree with all of this but I do agree with some of the reforms set out here. This is an administration trying to shake things up and build a system that is more effective for learners.
At the age of 16, students will have to choose between the “academic option” – comprising A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree – or the new “technical option”. This will signal the end of 16-18 students being able to opt for a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications, and is likely to lead to greater specialisation in individual providers and schools. For learners, however, there will be the option of switching between the two routes after completing A-levels or equivalent qualifications
Instinctively, I don't like the notion of learners choosing either 'academic' or 'technical' but that might be hardwired into my psyche. But if the system allows learners to genuinely progress back into either higher technical or back into 'academic' learning and the system really works to break down that academic vocational divide, then it should be attractive to learners and their parents. With the caveat too that your decision is based on sound careers advice and not that the 'technical' route is the only one open to you.
I think this is saying too that if you choose this route you are probably leaving school to attend College or achieve this through a training provider rather than staying on at school and getting a taster of a vocational offer - though I do think schools in Scotland could offer full national certificates and other programmes, perhaps this will happen, but it might take a new generation of teachers with a broader view of learning and one that is not so focused on the academic routes. The current Developing Scotland's Young People policy is perhaps not as bold in its ambition as the Post 16 Skills Plan.
In the “technical option”, students will embark on one of 15 technical education routes: agriculture, environmental and animal care; business and administrative; catering and hospitality; childcare and education; construction; creative and design; digital; engineering and manufacturing; hair and beauty; health and science; legal, finance and accounting; protective services; sales, marketing and procurement*; social care*; transport* and logistics*.
This is always more complex that it looks - it will be hard to fit all the things that industry want in the way of skills into 15 technical education routes. Where for instance in the list are music and sports industry qualifications and what all needs to fit under the Creative Design route - in theory everything from graphics, journalism to furniture design. But most Colleges in Scotland should recognize most of their current national certificate provision in this list - and progression and completion rates can be a challenge in FE provision in Scotland - perhaps something to think about at SCQF level 4, 5 and 6 and maybe a good opportunity to look at what is in these courses along side what is in the modern apprenticeship and to have another look at progression pathways. There might be more than 15 routes but building a clearer relationship between national certificate and apprenticeships is clearly a good thing for learners.
Some people reading this might remember a previous aborted attempt to introduce GSVQs in a fixed number of routes - this looks bolder building a link on into the apprenticeship.
Colleges might be alarmed to see Social Care along with the other starred routes listed above as a route that will mostly be delivered through an apprenticeship rather than solely a college based route, but when you reflect on this it does make sense. NC Social Care should be about clients and not mainly based in a College.
Within each route, learners can – following a transition year or traineeship for those “not ready to access a technical education route at age 16” – choose between a two-year, college-based programme (including compulsory work experience), or an employment-based programme, such as an apprenticeship (including at least 20 per cent college-based provision). Older learners will also be entitled to take these programmes.
This is really how national certificates in Scotland and apprenticeships could link together . The terms traineeship and transition year is I think a better pre-apprenticeship term that the foundation term currently used in Scotland. In effect there is a traineeship then either a two year College programme or entry on to an apprenticeship -given there being a close relationship between the College programme and an apprenticeship programme.
Each college programme will include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills, as well as “specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations”.
This is almost how many national certificate programmes in Scotland currently operate. They do though cover a broader range of core skills , essential skills , skills for learning life and work .
But, would a greater focus on numeracy and communication along with digital literacy improve the progression rates for Scottish FE learners as a common core in NC provision ? I have blogged in the past about the demise of IT as an essential skill replaced by Digital Literacy in Wales. Here is that transition happening in England . Digital literacy already has to be a component of the new apprenticeships in England.
After this, the pathways lead on to either level 4 or 5 higher technical education programmes, degree apprenticeships or higher apprenticeships. There will also be the option in some cases of taking “bridging provision”, leading to an undergraduate degree.
As learners in England are paying up to £9 thousand pounds a year to choose the degree route - so not really £9K think £27K before other learning and living expenses . Employers including many of the professions like accounting now offer apprenticeship routes to full professional status so that canny learners can earn while they learn and avoid student debt .This has led to a growth in the number of what are called advanced apprenticeships.
The bridging provision exists through HN to degree in Scotland more effectively than in England but there needs to be clearer links in Scotland between VQ level 3, 4 and 5 and HND and Degree provision. Colleges and Universities in Scotland are not good at recognising achievement through the apprenticeship route- even where this provision is now SCQF credit and levelled.
The new Institute for Apprenticeships will see its remit expanded to encompass “all of technical education at levels 2 to 5”. It will be responsible for bringing together expert groups to set the content and standards for each of the 15 routes and become the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
This makes sense, it has been a bit of a shambles in England with lots of competition creating an unhelpful maze of qualifications for learners and centres. Though there is probably exaggeration where the reports talk of 160 awarding organisations and thousands of different qualifications. These awarding bodies and qualifications do not all exist in the College space in England.
Effectively SQA really awards or accredits across this space already in Scotland but attention needs paid to these developments. I am sure if the expert groups create 15 robust routes there will be some expectation that these are adopted by organisations that operate across the UK . I am sure SQA will be watching this carefully. It also looks like the New Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have oversight of this rather than Ofqual ,so the Institute becomes a new strategic partner for SQA.
The report calls on the institute to review all existing apprenticeship standards “at the earliest opportunity” to ensure there is “no substantial overlap”.
I think this is highlighting the very mixed bag of fragmented standards and assessment strategies that were produced by the 'trailblazer' organisations, who did not call on the experience of sector skills councils, awarding bodies, colleges and training providers in creating the new standards and assessment strategies and this gives the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education the opportunity to tidy these up as they come to have this oversight.
Each qualification at levels 2 and 3 will be awarded by a single awarding body or consortium “following an open competition”, rather than the current market, which sees awarding bodies competing with one another. There will be one qualification for each occupation (or cluster of related occupations).
I highlighted earlier that this may be more of a challenge than it seems in terms of one qualification for a cluster of occupations.
The notion of one awarding body per subject is to control the market in England which has been out of control for probably the last 20 years - this model was mooted by Mr Gove to control GCSE and A level inflation and was then abandoned. This could be the end of many of the small awarding bodies in England. I am assuming that City and Guilds, Pearson Learning , OCR and a number of the larger awarding bodies will carve this market up if this goes ahead. But, I am assuming that having been granted a monopoly the government will set the prices for qualifications and assessment. It is often overlooked that in Scotland, SQA could be seen as almost a monopolist provider on the awarding side of the organisation but the Scottish government agrees the price tariff in Scotland not the SQA.
I think it would be good if one agency had control of the standard and the model of assessment - but allow awarding bodies to continue to compete around innovative on-line delivery and assessment delivery .The innovation needs to be close to the learners.
If only one awarding body has all the computing or accounting expertise ..what happens when the qualification comes up for re-tender in 3-5 years ? or what happens if there is a significant system failure with the one awarding body.
This is not currently a problem in Scotland but if a large employer decides they want to use these English awards, history shows that they will probably get funding for them in Scotland.
There will be a single set of “exit requirements” of minimum standards in maths and English for both college and work-based provision. Each college student will be required to complete a “high-quality, structured work placement”, and complete a logbook to demonstrate what tasks they have undertaken and what they have learned.
This is not yet really embedded in Scottish system every National Certificate learner would benefit from a structured work placement , some more focus on numeracy and communications and digital literacy and an on-line logbook or e-Portfolio that they can use for progression - this would sit well with employability and enterprise and the aims of Developing Young People.
There is currently a useful survey on the Scottish Government Response to Employer Levy
on what employers think we should spend the Employer Levy on in Scotland. If it goes ahead in April 2017 the treasury will raise £3billion pounds across the UK and around £250 million should be available in Scotland. It is probably time to do something more fundamental in this space . But , and say it quietly, Scotland does not have a great track record in innovation here, SVQ's were copied from NVQ's , Core Skills from English Key Skills in earlier reforms.
Perhaps, we should be doing a bit more thinking about the system being funded rather than just what we will do with the money that comes from the Employer levy ?