Technical and Further Education Bill

Written evidence submitted by NCFE (TFEB 03)

About NCFE

NCFE has almost 170 years of experience in designing and assessing Technical Education qualifications.

These qualifications have contributed to the success of millions of learners at all levels, bringing them closer to fulfilling their personal goals. Last year alone, over 340,000 learners from over 2,000 colleges, schools and training organisations chose NCFE as the Awarding Organisation to help them move into a job or progress their careers forward.

More information is available at www.ncfe.org.uk.

Executive Summary

We welcome the increased profile that this bill provides for Technical and Professional Education and for the opportunity to contribute to this call for evidence.

We agree with the general principles of the bill, it acknowledges the need for reform within the Technical Education arena, and we support those steps taken to ensure the system is aligned to employer needs. The bill as outlined also embeds longevity into the suggested reforms. We support allowing the changes proposed to bed in over a number of years.

However, we have identified a number of issues in the bill which may have unintended negative consequences around a risk of market failure, monopolies and the reduction of expertise in qualification creation. We also believe, that as currently set out, the bill will restrict opportunities for learners and employers to become involved in providing the full breadth of Technical and Professional Education pathways needed for a changing and growing economy.

We suggest having 2 Awarding Organisations offering each Technical Level qualification occupational route, as this provides competition and enables providers to quickly switch in the event of problems. It would be a major incentive for Awarding Organisations to continually improve their qualification offer and value for money.

In doing this, we believe that the quality of qualifications offered under the Post 16 Skills Plan will be higher. This will further support the change agenda for Technical and Professional Education.

Andrew Gladstone-Heighton

Policy Leader

November 2016

Evidence response

Technical and Further Education Bill

We welcome both the opportunity to contribute to this call for evidence, and the increased profile that this bill provides for Technical and Professional Education.

We agree with the general principles of the bill:

1. The bill acknowledges the need for reform within the Technical and Professional Education arena, and we support those steps taken to ensure the system is aligned to employer needs.

2. We welcome the ongoing work to raise the profile of Technical and Professional Education as a viable and appealing alternative to an Academic Education.

3. The bill as outlined also embeds longevity into the suggested Technical and Professional Education reforms, allowing changes proposed to bed in over a number of years. This has not previously been the case (for example, with the 14-19 Diploma reform introduced in 2008 and last awarded in 2014).

4. We recognise that there are perhaps too many Awarding Organisations, with some poor quality and questionable practice having emerged over the last decade. This is a contributing factor of learners gaining qualifications with little value in terms of helping them into a sustained and economically productive career.

5. The simplification of the routes available to learners will ensure the system is understood better by employers and learners alike.

However, we have identified the following issues in the bill which may have unintended negative consequences:

6. A negative aspect of point (4), the risk here is that the system becomes prescriptive and inflexible to respond to the changing needs of the labour market, industry and industrial processes and advancements in technology. We suggest later how this issue may be partially addressed.

7. There is a risk of market failure, with a potentially critical impact on a learner’s education. If an Awarding Organisation were to no longer be able to offer one of the prescribed qualifications outlined in the proposals, there would be no alternative for learners taking (and looking to undertake) the qualification.

An option to overcome this issue would be to have 2 Awarding Organisations per pathway/occupation – this would ensure that the other Awarding Organisations can quickly respond in the event of market failure and learners can transfer without disrupting their studies. As they currently stand, the current proposals do not leave any option for learners in the event of an Awarding Organisations failure.

8. An effective monopoly in this market may result in an Awarding Organisation fulfilling only their minimum obligations set out in their agreement to offer provision, removing incentives for a quality product or any ‘additionality’ providing a more rounded and balanced education for the learner.

9. As they stand, the proposals may lead to a monopoly in other areas of education as the successful Awarding Organisations could lever their relationships with providers [1] to saturate the market with their other qualifications.

10. The current proposals do not seem to recognise the great expertise in designing and assessing Technical and Professional Education qualifications that already exists within Awarding Organisations. There is a risk that the wealth, experience and talent within Awarding Organisations will be lost, to the detriment of learners, providers, employers and the Technical Education sector as a whole.

11. Restrictions of one Awarding Organisations per qualification or route may have the unintended consequence of increasing prices for other qualifications, services and products as existing Awarding Organisations have to make up the shortfall from existing revenue.

Providers may end up having to pay more for an existing qualification, during a time of increased financial pressure on the sector. Having talked to a number of college principals about this matter, their key concern is having sufficient choice to meet the needs of their learners, and to choose the best quality product for them.

12. The bill seeks to provide parity of esteem between an Academic and Technical and Professional route.

As it stands, the restriction to 15 routes further separates the Academic and Technical routes, and due to the proliferation of apprenticeship standards, still leaves learners with a complicated and potentially confusing choice on completion of their Technical Level qualification.

We look forward to working with the Department for Education on articulating what the higher level (Levels 4 & 5) offer for Post 16 learners will look like.

13. The system as currently set out compels learners towards a prescribed career path. A significant number of occupations are omitted from the 15 routes as they’re currently articulated, and there is therefore no clear path into those industries. This perceived narrowing of choice may be the increase in the number of learners not in employment, education or training.

We also acknowledge the challenge of identifying the range of new emerging and future occupations that will need to be bought into the Post 16 Skills Plan, we wish to share our current modelling and insight into these new and emerging sectors with the Department for Education to ensure the Plan is as ’future proofed’ as it can be.

We suggest the following amendment to the bill:

14. We suggest having 2 Awarding Organisations able to offer the Technical Level qualification occupational route, as:

· This enables providers to quickly switch in the event of problems with their Awarding Organisations and provides choice in the market.

· This would provide a major incentive for Awarding Organisations to continually improve their qualification offer.

· The competitive element this introduces also ensures Awarding Organisations have incentive to provide excellent customer service to providers, including a quick turnaround on certifications and dealing with any issues efficiently. 

· Having two Awarding Organisations per route means that it is more likely that there will be more organisations with capacity to tender for licenses on an ongoing basis.

· We firmly believe that the quality of qualifications on offer will be higher. Awarding Organisations will maintain more specialist staff and this will improve their offer in delivering the Post 16 routes, as well as their other complementary and supporting qualifications. This in turn will further support the change agenda for Technical and Professional Education. 

November 2016


[1] Please note: ‘Providers’ refers to all institutions delivering technical education to learners, and includes all FE and Sixth Form Colleges, Independent Training Providers, Employers and National Colleges

 

Prepared 22nd November 2016