Clause 10 - Application of accreditation requirement in relation to technical education qualifications

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 2 December 2021.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 4:00, 2 December 2021

I beg to move amendment 49, in clause 10, page 14, line 17, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment would ensure Ofqual remains able to make a determination under subsection (1) in relation to accreditation requirements relating to approved technical education qualifications.

Amendment 49 is brief and would ensure that Ofqual remains able to make a determination under section 138(1) of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 in relation to accreditation requirements relating to approved technical education qualifications. The Bill hugely centralises power in the Secretary of State’s hands, and it is important that an independent organisation can ensure that our technical education framework remains based on evidence and academic excellence, rather than on political priorities. For that reason, we would look to leave out paragraph (a) and ensure that Ofqual remains able to make such determinations.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 4:15, 2 December 2021

The amendment aims to retain Ofqual’s power to accredit technical education qualifications that are also subject to the institute’s approval processes. These two functions are very similar, so the amendment would undermine the intention to clarify the statutory approval process for technical qualifications.

By creating a single approval gateway managed by the institute, the Bill removes duplication in the processes for these qualifications and so ensures that the system is as efficient as possible. If we were to accept the amendment, awarding organisations might be subjected to two overlapping and very similar approval processes. The mutual co-operation requirements of clause 9 ensure that although Ofqual cannot decide to accredit technical qualifications, it will continue to play a key role in their approval. Ofqual will continue to exercise its regulatory functions in live delivery.

I should draw the Committee’s attention to the comment by Jo Saxton, the Chief Inspector of Ofqual:

“The Skills Bill heralds the acceleration of a unified system of technical qualifications based on employer-led standards, in which Ofqual has a pivotal role, providing students and apprentices with high quality qualifications…The Bill cements our close working relationship with the Institute, drawing on the strengths and expertise of both organisations, with our statutory regulation of technical qualifications continuing to underpin this system”.

I think we can take it from that comment that Ofqual is very happy with the Bill as it is drafted.

It is more appropriate that the institute leads on the approval process, because its work is essential in ensuring that both the content and the outcomes of technical qualifications are aligned to the skills that employers have told us they need.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I heard what the Minister said. This was a probing amendment to try to understand a little more about how Ofqual’s role would operate in the future. However, having heard what the Minister has had to say, I beg to task leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Clause 10 is needed in addition to clause 9 in order to clarify the roles of the institute and Ofqual in the approval of technical education qualifications. Under the existing legislation and the provisions of the Bill, the institute has specific responsibility to ensure that technical qualifications meet the skills needs of employers and different employment sectors. In parallel, Ofqual has the discretion to decide that individual types and classes of qualification should be subject to an accreditation requirement before they can be taught in schools and colleges. The purpose of the two processes is similar—to ensure that qualifications meet a high-quality bar before they enter the market. Therefore, the current legislation means that individual technical qualifications could be subject to two similar and unhelpfully overlapping approval processes. That would be unnecessary double regulation.

Clause 10 will remove the potential for overlap and duplication by creating a single approval gateway for all technical qualifications. Taken together with the mutual co-operation provisions in clause 9, it enables the two bodies to work together to provide a clear single approval pathway for technical education qualifications. It will remove the potential for duplication and additional bureaucracy both for the two bodies themselves and for the awarding organisations whose qualifications are subject to approval.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Given the concerns that we have raised with regard to the creation of the division between Ofqual and the institute, and the fear that that may lead to a two-tier approach and a sense that the investigations into academic qualifications that are seen with A-levels and other qualifications under Ofqual are different from those under the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the technical qualifications, this is an issue that the Government need to be very careful about in future. They should ensure that there is real confidence that the technical qualifications are robust and subject to the same processes, and the same checks and balances, as other qualifications.

That is the key point that we make to the Government. We do not intend to oppose clause 10 stand part, but we seek reassurances that there will not be too much of a sense that the different pathways are of different merit.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.