Purpose of reforms

There is a growing demand for skills at levels 4 and 5 from employers and students. The number of learners taking qualifications at level 4 and 5 is low compared to other countries and other levels of education. In England, only 1 in 10 people have a level 4 or 5 as their highest qualification.

In July, the government published its plans for the future of higher technical education at level 4 and 5 in England. These plans set out the government’s ambition to increase the number of learners at level 4 and 5, and the supply of much-needed skills, to raise productivity and prosperity. This will be achieved through three key reforms:

  • ensuring qualifications are prestigious and meet employer needs by introducing a new quality mark for level 4 and 5 qualifications
  • ensuring that courses and providers delivering the approved qualifications are high-quality
  • developing level 4 and 5 qualifications as an attractive choice for learners and employers. This includes raising the profile and understanding of higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice, and guidance

The Department for Education’s Role

The Department for Education is responsible for developing the policy for the reforms to higher technical education and qualification funding. The department also has responsibility for increasing the quality of higher technical provision by the development and promotion of the new brand and communications material, as well as through improving information, advice, and guidance.

The Institute’s Role

The Institute is an independent, employer-led organisation with a vision for a world-leading technical education system that equips people from all backgrounds for skilled occupations, contributing to increased economic productivity. Our core purpose is to develop, approve, review, and revise high-quality apprenticeships and technical education with employers.

For higher technical qualifications, we have put in place a new employer-led approvals process, building on our experience and expertise of approving apprenticeships and T Levels. We will compare the qualifications submitted to employer-designed occupational standards which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours an individual should achieve to be deemed competent in an occupation. Where a qualification has demonstrated it has aligned to the standard it will be approved by the Institute and awarded the quality mark.  

The approval of higher technical qualifications will be organised on a route by route basis. The first approval process, starting in September 2020, will focus on qualifications that align to occupations in the digital route. The approval of digital qualifications will conclude in summer 2021 and the first qualifications will be available to learners from September 2022. Information on the 15 routes to skilled employment and the occupations they contain can be found on the occupational maps.

We will use the experience of first approvals on the digital route to learn lessons and evolve the process ahead of future rollouts. Future approvals will include construction and, health and science routes in 2021. A full schedule covering all remaining routes will be published in due course.  

Ofqual and Office for Students role

The Institute will only review qualifications regulated by Ofqual or the Office for Students (OfS). Both organisations will continue to perform their respective regulatory functions in regard to awarding bodies and qualifications. In addition, they will provide advice, where appropriate, to the Institute as part of the approvals process. The Institute will make the final approval decisions.