Department for Education written question – answered at on 14 May 2024.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what plans they have to ensure that applied general qualifications are still available to students in future.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Lords Spokesperson (Equalities)

The aim of the department’s Post-16 Qualifications reform at level 3 and below is to streamline the qualifications landscape, simplify choices for students, and only fund qualifications that are high-quality and lead to good progression outcomes. By ensuring that approved qualifications meet new, more rigorous criteria, young people can be confident that they will be able to progress to university and higher technical education, and directly into apprenticeships and skilled employment. It will place world class A levels and T Levels at the heart of level 3 study programmes for 16 to 19 year olds, and link other technical qualifications directly with occupational standards which have been designed by employers. Students studying these qualifications can be confident that they are gaining the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed for future jobs.

In the new post-16 qualification landscape, students will continue to have a range of options available to them at level 3, in addition to A levels and T Levels, there will be new technical occupational qualifications (TOQs) and Alternative Academic Qualifications (AAQs).

Where occupational standards are not covered by a T Level, the department is allowing TOQs to be developed, where students can continue to study areas currently covered by applied general qualifications (AGQs), such as travel consultant, highways electrician, and personal trainer, to list a few. The key distinction here is that they will be based on employer led occupational standards, unlike current AGQs.

On the academic side, current AGQs will be replaced by AAQs. There will be new small AAQs in a range of strategically important subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and those supporting entry into NHS careers. These qualifications are an important part of how the department will support diverse student needs and deliver skills required by the economy. Small AAQs can be studied alongside A levels as part of mixed academic programme. The department will also fund large AAQs in areas that A levels and T Levels cover less well such as performing arts and sport. AAQs must demonstrate a clear link to related higher education (HE) courses and will be assessed by the department against the new funding approval criteria.

The department knows that students who take A levels have better outcomes overall in terms of progressing into, and staying in, HE than those who study AGQs. This is supported by the evidence, which shows that students progressing to HE with alternatives to A levels, such as AGQs, generally experience worse outcomes than their peers taking A levels, even after controlling for differences in background characteristics. Current AGQs also provide very mixed outcomes for students.

The qualification reforms also include reforming level 2 qualifications to ensure they are high-quality, have clear purposes, and lead to better outcomes, either supporting progression to reformed level 3 study, for example via the T Level Foundation Year, or directly into skilled employment in occupations at level 2 or via apprenticeships. This means that studying a reformed level 2 qualification will lead to better long-term outcomes than studying a poor-quality level 3 qualification.

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