What’s next in the post-16 reforms? | NCFE

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What’s next in the post-16 reforms?

David Rowley David Rowley Product Manager in Technical Education

This article was originally published by FE Week on 27 November 2023. 

David Rowley, Product Manager in Technical Education at the awarding organisation NCFE, explains the latest developments from the post-16 reforms and why he believes we have an opportunity to create a fantastic technical education landscape.  

Whether you’re working in an industry or training the future workforce, the one thing most people are looking for is certainty – certainty of jobs, talent, learners and qualifications.  

The last thing we want to see as an awarding organisation is learners feeling cut adrift and out of options when it comes to achieving the qualifications they need to progress into their chosen careers. 

We also need to ensure that any existing worker or skills shortages are being addressed, not deepened - something I know is of real concern for many employers.  

As the post-16 reforms continue to progress, there are many in the FE sector who won’t be feeling very certain right now. In key sectors, such as social care, there are still many unknowns when it comes to the future qualification landscape. 

Served by an aging and transient workforce, a steady pipeline of talent moving to social care is crucial to maintaining a pool of skilled staff. It’s therefore essential that we preserve quality training pathways into the sector. 

As well as social care, the reforms mean that industries such as travel and tourism, aviation, uniformed public services, and sport, sectors essential to British prosperity, culture and identity, will be struggling with unknowns.  

Information is still being released, as we saw earlier this month when the technical guidance for Cycle 2 became available - which covers Level 2 and 3 qualifications in sectors that don’t align with T Levels. The sectors mentioned above all fall into this cycle, and NCFE is making it a priority to design fantastic provision in these areas. 

What will be of interest to those working in FE is that new funding rules will now allow combined study programmes of academic and technical qualifications. In previously published guidance, a learner had to pick a distinct pathway. This change is very welcome as it reflects providers' need to create flexible programmes for young people that give them the choice of going into the workforce or progressing to higher education. 

This development mirrors the proposed structure of the new Advanced British Standard, announced by Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party Conference in October, which seeks to combine academic and technical education into one ubiquitous programme, allowing vocational subjects to have parity of esteem with their academic counterparts. 

For NCFE, this means we can now look at those key sectors, work with educators and employers, analyse the need for academic, technical or combined qualifications, and develop everything that’s needed to secure the future workforce in each.  

Over the last few months, I’ve visited and listened to the concerns of representatives from across FE and industry. While there’s been a real spotlight on which qualifications are being ‘defunded’, there’s been very little information about new qualifications and the opportunity to create an improved system. 

I’ve also spoken with learners, who are the reason why we need to get this right – like Megan Dutton, a 17-year-old at The Aviation Academy, part of Craven College, about to begin her studies, who blew me away with her focus and determination. 

She told me: “My plan is to study the NCFE Level 3 Travel and Tourism with Aviation qualification and then, after that, I'll look to do my Level 4, 5 and 6 – which is a degree course based at The Aviation Academy. I’d then like to start off my career as being a duty support officer, before becoming an airport duty manager and then finally, an air traffic controller – that's my main goal.” 

At a time when it may feel like everything is still up in the air and we’re not sure what the future holds, the one piece of certainty I can offer is that NCFE is absolutely committed to all of these important sectors. We are working through the details, we have a plan, and we’re standing by the FE sector.  

With that in mind, we’ve created a dedicated area with all the latest information on the post-16 reforms and what they mean, including a new free guide to download. Find out more by visiting our Post-16 Reform landing page here. 

What will be of interest to those working in FE is that new funding rules will now allow combined study programmes of academic and technical qualifications. In previously published guidance, a learner had to pick a distinct pathway.

David Rowley, Product Manager in Technical Education
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