School Leaders Summit 2014

The Future of Education

October 16th 2014 | London

Education reform: what next for vocational qualifications?

Pupils in a classroom

Mark Dawe, CEO of OCR, outlines the timetable and impact of major reforms to vocational qualifications.

The forthcoming major reforms to GCSEs and A Levels have been widely discussed and publicised in the press, media and on social networks. Less high profile, but of considerable importance, are the Government’s parallel reforms of vocational education.

16-19 Vocational Qualification Reform

Reforms to 14-16 vocational qualifications were implemented in early September and have resulted in significant changes to the design of qualifications and a reduction in the range and number of vocational qualifications included in school performance measures.

These are to be joined by further reforms to 16-19 vocational qualifications.  In a phased implementation that starts from September 2014, all 16-19 qualifications will have to be classified as either:

  • Academic
  • Applied
  • General Technical

Each ‘type’ of qualification will have to meet defined characteristics – which will require the introduction of external assessment, synoptic assessment, ‘appropriate’ size and content and arrangements for grading.  The implementation plan sets a target for these reforms to be in place for first teaching from  September 2016, but there is freedom and scope for awarding bodies to develop qualifications that meet these defined characteristics for first teaching from September 2015, if they so wish.

Their impact on accountability measures and the way student achievement and progression is measured has the potential to be dramatic

The reforms to 16-19 vocational qualifications will therefore happen in parallel to the introduction of reformed GCSEs and A Levels.  The introduction of the revised approach to content, size, assessment and grading  of these qualifications will have as significant an impact upon vocational programmes in schools and colleges as the changes to GCSEs and A levels.   

2013 developments

As a preparation for these reforms, awarding bodies have, during the last three months, been required to seek formal, written approval from universities and employers for their current 16-19 vocational qualifications – something that has not been required of general qualifications.  Without evidence of this support (from HEI’s for those qualifications to be recognised as Applied General and from employers for those to be considered as Technicals) these qualifications will not be included in the DfE list to be published in November 2013.

It is the intention of the Department to use the  list of qualifications published this November to provide performance data on schools and colleges, as if the new qualifications were in place for teaching in September 2014.  This will draw attention to the impact of these reforms on learners’ potential programmes of study much earlier than when actual reforms are due to take place. 

Schools and colleges will need to keep a close an eye on vocational reforms as well as the much more widely publicised reform of academic qualifications. Their impact on accountability measures and the way student achievement and progression is measured has the potential to be dramatic and as such needs to be planned for carefully.