Technical and Further Education Bill

Written evidence submitted by Pearson (TFEB 13)

1 About Pearson

1.1 Pearson is submitting evidence to the committee in its capacity as the largest provider of college, and work-based qualifications in the country. We also have a significant presence in the academic qualifications market through our provision of the full range of GCSEs and A-levels. In addition, as a FTSE 100 UK headquartered company, we also have a real understanding of the need for highly skilled, well rounded employees.

1.2 Our submission focuses on Part 1 (Technical Education) and Schedule 1 of the Bill. This section and the accompanying schedule deals with the implementation of the Post-16 Skills Plan.

1.3 Pearson broadly welcomes the Post-16 Skills Plan. It signals a continued focus on professional and technical education, and crucially, given the UK’s track record, has the potential to increase the prestige of technical education so that it becomes a positive choice for all students either alongside, or instead of, more traditional academic education.

1.4 We have authored a further paper on delivering the Skills Plan, which outlines areas of the Plan we believe need further consideration in order to help ensure the sector can work together to successfully deliver its potential. This paper is available to all members of the Bill committee, but we have not submitted this at this time, given the Committee’s specific task of line-by-line scrutiny of the Technical and Further Education Bill, rather than the Skills Plan.

1.5 In this submission we raise seven issues we believe warrant further discussion and clarification to ensure the technical provisions in Part 1 and Schedule 1 of the Bill support the aims and successful delivery of the Plan:

· The Institute: clarity of function in relation to other key bodies in the education and skills sector

· Occupational categories and groups: responsiveness and coverage

· Preparation of apprenticeship and technical education standards, and apprenticeship assessment plans: sustainability, links to labour market, and stakeholder engagement

· Approved technical education qualifications: provider competition, and a licensing model

· Transfer of copyright relating to technical education qualifications: detail and process

· Evaluation of quality of apprenticeship assessments: overall responsibility

· Power to issue technical education certificate: value and process

2. Scrutiny of the Bill

2.1 The Skills Plan was published at the same time as the Sainsbury Report, upon which it was based, on 6 July 2016, followed by the Bill in October. We would urge careful scrutiny of the Bill as it introduces fundamental changes which have not as yet been informed by input from or discussion with key stakeholders. This is the first public invitation to provide input into the changes proposed and we very much welcome the opportunity.

3. The Institute: clarity of function in relation to other key bodies in the education and skills sector

3.1 Pearson welcomes the inclusion of technical education in the remit for the Institute for Apprenticeships. A single and clear overview of apprenticeships and technical education is essential to ensure policy and practice are aligned so providers are not hindered in delivering high quality provision, and learning and career pathways are clearly mapped and effectively help students make informed choices. (A2DA and A2HA)

3.2 Clarity around the distinct roles of organisations is of course crucial in ensuring organisations can work together efficiently and communicate effectively. It is important roles are clear to avoid overlaps and gaps.

3.3 We would welcome further clarification of the role of the Institute in relation to other key bodies in the education and skills sector. For example, the relationship between Ofqual and the Institute around qualification approval functions, and the relationship between the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Institute around funding approval functions. We need to understand the role of the organisations in relation to technical and academic education and whether the intention is for the Institute to take over regulatory and funding functions for technical education from Ofqual and the EFA and the SFA.

3.4 If that were the intention we would need to consider the impact of a clear split between these organisations along education ‘types’ particularly given the need to allow students to move with ease across the ‘types’.

4. Occupational categories and groups: responsiveness and coverage

4.1 The Secretary of State will determine occupational categories (or routes). The Institute will then determine occupations in relation to which it may be appropriate for people to undertake apprenticeships or obtain qualifications, and determine which of those occupations require similar knowledge, skills and behaviour. Two or more occupations that require similar knowledge, skills and behaviour are a ‘group’. Where categories have been determined the Institute must allocate each occupation or group to a category, but, if the Institute considers that no category is appropriate it must nevertheless allocate the occupation or group to a category. (ZA10)

4.2 The Bill implies that occupations or groups that do not fit within an existing category will, nevertheless, be allocated to an existing category. If this interpretation is correct we would suggest the determination of categories needs to be more flexible in order to take into account the reality of the modern workforce. We are not suggesting the number of categories grow to a point whereby it becomes difficult to understand the framework; rather that we ensure the categories make sense in informing a student’s learning and career options. The world of work is a rapidly changing one and our process for categorising occupations needs to be flexible and responsive.

4.3 In addition, the routes as they are currently set out are not complete. Retail for example is not included in the proposed routes. Examples such as this exemplify the need for the process for categorising occupations to be flexible and responsive.

5. Preparation of apprenticeship and technical education standards, and apprenticeship assessment plans: sustainability, links to labour market, and stakeholder engagement

5.1 The Institute will publish apprenticeship and technical education standards, and apprenticeship assessment plans. These will be prepared by a group of persons approved by the Institute, or by a group convened by the Institute if the need will not be met unless a group is convened. The standards will set out the outcomes that persons seeking to achieve the standard are expected to attain in order to do so. (ZA11)

5.2 It is not clear how, or if, groups of persons will be compensated for preparing standards or plans. We need to ensure consistency across occupations, and ensure all occupations are served by standards. As the September 2016 NAO report [1] pointed out: ‘[Trailblazer] employers involved have expressed concern about the time they have to invest at their own expense’ to develop apprenticeship standards and assessment plans. The costs of development, and updating, of standards and plans, need to be on a sustainable footing.

5.3 The make-up of the groups of persons needs to be carefully considered. Technical qualifications and assessments, and the standards upon which they are based, need to be genuinely linked to the labour market but this does not necessarily require individual employers be involved in their development. Individual employers often have direct and short-term needs; for young people it is the labour market as a whole that matters.

5.4 The apprenticeship Trailblazers provided us with a further lesson: that groups brought together to work on standards and assessment plans should not be unnecessarily confined at the outset and all relevant stakeholders should be included. Awarding organisations hold the expertise in design and assessment of qualifications and need to be involved at the outset to ensure standards and assessments are valid and deliverable and to avoid wasted costs.

6 Approved technical education qualifications: provider competition, and a licensing model

6.1 The Bill authorises the Institute to approve technical education qualifications in respect of one or more occupations for which standards are published. (A2DA)

6.2 We would welcome clarification on the power of the Institute in determining the number of qualifications available and the number of providers eligible to offer them, and how these powers may differ across qualification levels.

6.3 A key aspect of the reforms set out in the Skills Plan is the different treatment of levels 2 and 3, and, 4 and 5. At levels 2 and 3 an occupation may be reduced to a single qualification, the provider of which would be procured by competition. Any technical education qualification at levels 2 and 3 will be offered and awarded by a single body or consortium, under a licence covering a fixed period of time following an open competition. At levels 4 and 5 the Plan adopts the Sainsbury recommendation that qualifications would need to meet standards set by professionals within that occupation, and adds that the Institute would normally wish to recognise only a single qualification in a particular area.

6.4 The risks of such an approach are extremely high. Ofqual [2] , the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education [3] , and the Education Select Committee [4] have all questioned the validity of removing provider competition. Having only one organisation deliver qualifications for each subject introduces a ‘single point of failure’, meaning that if the organisation fails to deliver its qualifications on time and to the required standard there is no ‘Plan B’. Furthermore, over time, the capacity in a particular sector will diminish in other organisations resulting in reliance on a single organisation, and raising barriers to entry with regard to future tenders. We would urge the Committee to further investigate the proposal for such fundamental change which will not, based on current evidence, have any beneficial effect on national standards, and introduces risk to the system.

6.5 We would recommend that a similar approach is adopted for both levels 2 and 3, and levels 4 and 5, and recommend that all bodies designated by the Institute should be able to be able to develop provision for approval by the Institute.

7 Transfer of copyright relating to technical education qualifications: detail and process

7.1 The Bill ensures that where a technical education qualification is approved, the right or interest in any copyright in a relevant course document is transferred from the person to the Institute at the time the approval is given. The Institute may also assign to another person, or grant a licence to another person in respect of, any right or interest transferred to the Institute. The Explanatory Notes envisage that this might include the person that produced the qualification. (A21A and A2DA)

7.2 We would welcome further clarification of the term ‘relevant course document’ and of the process for granting a licence, and of the section of the drafting which is particularly unclear:

‘If the Institute fails to comply with subsection (4)(b) [the IATE satisfying itself that each person who it thinks is entitled to an interest in any copyright in the determined documents agreeing to that interest being transferred to the Institute] then, unless it does so in the knowledge that a person does not agree as mentioned in that provision –

the failure does not invalidate the approval of the qualification, but

the Institute must pay such compensation (if any) as may be appropriate to any person whose right or interest is transferred to the Institute without the person’s agreement.’

7.3 Awarding organisations need to plan and manage cost effective and timely development of technical education qualifications, and be clear about the ownership of intellectual property.

8 Evaluation of quality of apprenticeship assessments: overall responsibility

8.1 Employers and others who develop apprenticeship standards must set out who will evaluate assessments in relation to each standard, and how they will do it. The Bill ensures that employers and others will be able to ask the Institute to fulfil this quality assurance function. Other options available to them include Ofqual, professional bodies and others. Some or all of the bodies that carry out this function may charge for doing so and the Bill authorises the Institute to charge fees for evaluating apprenticeship assessments. (A2B)

8.2 It is currently unclear who has responsibility for the overall quality assurance of the evaluation of apprenticeship assessments. Given the importance of these evaluations in that they ensure organisations undertaking assessments are delivering comparable, consistent and high quality assessments, we would suggest a clear process with an overall responsible body needs to be in place to ensure this quality assurance process is robust.

9 Power to issue technical education certificate: value and process

9.1 The Bill allows the Secretary of State to issue certificates for approved technical education if a student has obtained an approved technical education qualification and taken any other steps determined under section A2DB in relation to the occupations in respect of which the qualification is approved. (A3A)

9.2 We would welcome clarification of this process as currently, awarding organisations, as Ofqual regulated organisations, certificate qualifications in accordance with regulatory requirements and standards. There is no evidence that additional certificates for technical education are needed and this would add unnecessary costs into the system. The value of such certificates needs to be evidenced given the extra cost and duplication. In addition, if this proposal were to be taken forward, the role of different organisations in the issuing of technical education certificates (as opposed to qualification certificates) needs to be clear.

November 2016

 

Prepared 29th November 2016