Issue 119 | July 2021

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Following the second stage of the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the Reform of Level 3 Qualifications in England, which ran from 23 October 2020 to 31 January 2021 (see here for details), on 13 July the DfE published a Policy Statement that outlines how the reforms will be implemented. The Policy Statement was published alongside the government response to the DfE consultation and an impact assessment.

The Policy Statement (see here for a copy) covers both academic qualifications and vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) and confirms the government’s preference for all 16-year-olds capable of benefitting from Level 3 courses either to follow an ‘academic route’ and take A-Levels, or a ‘vocational route’ whereby they would take T-Levels or a Level 3 apprenticeship.

The vocational route is the most affected by the reforms and the statement gives examples of the current complexity of VTQs and the need for rationalisation. For example, there are currently more than 12,000 funded VTQs approved for 16-19-year-olds from Entry Level to Level 3, with more than 4,000 qualifications funded at Level 3 alone. Within this total, there are more than 200 funded Level 3 qualifications in building and construction, and within this, there are 15 funded Level 3 plumbing qualifications, the contents of which range from 170 guided learning hours (GLH) to more than 1,800.

The Policy Statement says that the current qualification structure will be replaced by a common framework of 15 VTQ routes. This framework, which was first proposed in the  2016 Post-16 Skills Plan (see here for a copy) will be the basis for the reformed VTQ offer. Each route will reflect groups of occupations and each VTQ will reflect corresponding employer-led occupational standards. The statement also refers to the ‘occupational maps’ produced by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). Progression within the framework will be through three bands. These are:

  • Technical: Comprised of T-Levels and other approved Level 3 qualifications, Level 2 qualifications and Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships.
  • Higher Technical: Comprised of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) at Level 4 and 5 qualifications as well as Level 4 and 5 apprenticeships.
  • Professional: Comprised of Level 6 and 7 qualifications, including degree apprenticeships.

The Policy Statement also confirms that:

  • Applied General Qualifications (such as BTECs or Cambridge Nationals) which overlap with T-Levels will be defunded. Some Level 3 qualifications (including certain BTECs) could still be publicly funded if it can be shown that they provide employers with the specialist skills they need, or lead to vocationally relevant HE courses, but these will be the exception.
  • More Level 3 qualifications will be made available to adults, including T-Levels, from 2023.
  • The new framework for VTQs at Level 3 and above will be phased in between 2023 and 2025, which means that 2-year BTECs and other Applied General Qualifications at Level 3 commencing in 2021/22 will be the last to be publicly funded.

Responses to the Consultation Document (see here for a copy) include the following:

  • 86% of those who responded to the consultation said that they disagreed with the DfE’s plan to defund qualifications that overlap with T-Levels. Their concerns were mainly around reduced flexibility and choice for students. Others called for the retention of Applied General Qualifications because they believe that T-Levels will not be appropriate for all students.
  • 56% of respondents disagreed with the proposal to approve Level 3 qualifications other than T-Levels for funding only if they could demonstrate occupational competence against employer-led standards not covered by T-Levels.
  • There was general disagreement with defunding most A-Level alternative qualifications supporting progression to HE courses.
  • Ofqual, which submitted its own response to the consultation (see here for a copy), made many of the same points, but added that some students, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), would find T-Levels ‘… less well-suited, too big or not sufficiently flexible for their individual study needs’.

However, many employers responded positively to the proposals. For example, a spokesperson for Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace Division said that the current proliferation of qualifications and lack of standardised content was ‘…confusing, costly and disruptive’.

The Impact Assessment (see here for a copy) says the following:

  • More than half (54%) of qualifications currently funded at Level 3 are likely to be defunded.
  • 10 awarding organisations (AOs) could see their revenue from publicly funded exams at Level 3 and below fall by 80% or more. AOs whose qualifications will fit into the future qualifications landscape will still incur costs due to the adaptation needed for existing qualifications to meet future approval criteria.
  • 25 providers could lose 75% or more of their total funded enrolments. 23 of these are independent training providers (ITPs).
  • A small minority of students may not be able to achieve the remaining Level 3 qualifications. The DfE says that it will aim to help mitigate against this with a higher quality offer at Level 2, and ‘other mitigations’ to support continued progression to Level 3.
  • An updated DfE analysis now says that students from Black and Asian ethnic groups are unlikely to be impacted by the reforms. However, students with SEND and those from disadvantaged white ethnic groups could be adversely impacted by the changes. This is mainly due to their proportionately higher representation on courses likely to be defunded.

Assuming the Post-16 Education and Skills Bill (see here for a copy) currently passing through parliament is enacted into law, IfATE will assume responsibility for approving the content and regulation of all VTQs in England from 2024 onwards. However, concerns have been expressed that the bill does not define the respective roles of Ofqual and IfATE sufficiently clearly, leading to the risk that they could have overlapping regulatory jurisdictions. As a result, the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) has called for the Bill to be amended to provide for a single VTQ regulatory framework in order to ensure that for all qualifications are regulated in exactly the same way. In effect, FAB are calling for IfATE, which approves VTQs in its own right, to be regulated by Ofqual in the same way as any other AO. Such an amendment, says FAB, would help ensure that there is ‘… a level regulatory playing field for all sub-degree qualifications and apprenticeships in England’. FAB goes on to say that this would help avoid any future conflict of interest between IfATE’s role in both approving and regulating VTQs and any subsequent allegations that IfATE was ‘…marking its own homework’. More information on FAB’s stance on this issue can be found on their website here.


IfATE has unveiled its new quality mark logo for Level 4 and 5 HTQs approved by IfATE for its use (see here). The first use of the logo will be in 2022 and will cover a range of new HNC/Ds and Foundation Degrees in digital skills, including computing, computer science, software engineering, software development, network engineering and cyber-security which will be made available in that year. 


On 12 July, the DfE and Ofqual jointly launched two three-week consultations on modifications to exam arrangements in 2022 to help mitigate the impact of disruption to students’ education arising from the pandemic. The first consultation deals with GCSE, AS and A-Levels and the second deals with VTQs.

GCSE, AS and A-Levels (see here for a copy). The consultation proposes that:

  • Exams should be reintroduced to determine grades, replacing teacher assessed grades (TAGs).
  • Schools and colleges should be given a choice on the topics/content their students will be assessed on in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography.
  • Students be provided with advance information on exam content, to help them with their revision.
  • Students be provided with a formulae sheet in GCSE mathematics and an expanded equations sheet in GCSE physics and combined science.
  • Requirements for practical science work and art and design assessments should be modified.

Vocational, Technical and other general qualifications (VTQs) (see here for a copy of the consultation document, and here for further details on the consultation from Ofqual).

Ofqual introduced a VTQ Contingency Regulatory Framework (see here for details) for VTQ exams and assessments scheduled for this summer. This placed vocational qualifications into two categories:

  • Category A qualifications, where exams and assessments were expected to continue but AOs were permitted to make adaptations to take account of the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
  • Category B qualifications, where exams and assessments could not take place. AOs were permitted to award results using alternative evidence, including TAGs.

For next year, it is proposed that:

  • All VTQ exams and assessments will go ahead, and AOs will only be allowed to issue results based on student performance in exams and any other externally moderated assessments.
  • The number of guided learning hours should remain unaltered for each VTQ, and any extra time gained should be used for education recovery and learning.
  • AOs are allowed to roll over internal assessments into 2021/22, but only for students who were working towards them in 2020/21 and only if they were unable to complete them due to Covid restrictions.
  • For Applied General Qualifications, colleges will be given some choice about the topics or content their students will be assessed on. GCSE maths students could also be given formula sheets in exams.
  • As with other VTQs, all Functional Skills Qualifications (FSQs) exams and assessments will go ahead in 2021/22, and the full subject content will be taught across all levels.

The DfE and Ofqual say they will keep a close watch on pandemic developments and have ‘not closed the door’ on switching back to the use of TAGs if changed circumstances should make this necessary.


The decision by the DfE to cancel GCSE, AS and A-Level exams this year and for grades to be determined by TAGs instead has apparently led to much anxiety for students. Also, many parents’ seem now to believe that the grades awarded through TAGs this year will not be fair. This is borne out by the findings of recent poll carried out by the parenting website Mumsnet, which found that around half (54%) of parents surveyed said that they did not believe that using TAGs was a fair process for awarding grades (see here). Strangely, this was apparently not the case last year when, in the wake of mass protest, an algorithm that had standardised most TAGs downwards had to be abandoned. However, since the parental stance on TAGs now seems to have changed, schools and colleges are bracing themselves in anticipation of a sharp increase in the numbers of appeals. The General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has warned that parents ‘with pointy elbows and lawyer friends’ have already started making threats of legal action and that as a result of this, the ASCL is now bringing in its own lawyers to support its members. Meanwhile, Claimsmiths has become the first legal firm to launch its own bespoke exam appeals service providing specialist legal advice for students and their parents on their grounds for appeal. Claimsmiths says it has experienced litigators and will use, amongst other things, data rights legislation to obtain critical evidence to support appeals against grades awarded that are below student and parent expectations. See here for more information.


Provider qualification achievement rates (QARs) and league tables have not been published for the last two years because of the pandemic.  However, in an update published on 19 July (see here for a copy) the DfE says that 2021/22 schools Key Stage 4 data and post-16 provider QARs will be published, as will school and college league tables, using the DfE’s ‘..normal accountability measures’.


The Association of Colleges (AoC) has estimated that changes to assessment in 2020/21 required as a result of the pandemic will have cost FE colleges in England an additional £50 million. The figure is based on additional costs of around £50 extra per 16-18-year-old student and £20 extra per adult student, making a total of around £200,000 for a typical college and more £50million for the FE college sector as a whole. The extra costs include (amongst other things) the additional staff time spent on setting and marking assessments, reviews with students, practical assessments, communicating the changes to parents, students and employers, the cost of hiring more invigilators as a result of social distancing requirements, the extra work involved in cross-college moderation and verification, inputting the final grades and the cost of any student appeals once the results are published. Meanwhile AO costs have fallen and last year many provided rebates on their fees. The AoC has now written to the AOs asking them to also provide rebates this year if they have made a net overall saving. See here for more information on this.


On 19 July, the DfE published updated guidance for FE colleges in respect of the measures to be put in place during the pandemic (see here for a copy). Changes in the update include the following:

  • It is no longer necessary to keep students in consistent groups (‘bubbles’).
  • It will not be necessary to stagger start and finish times.
  • Students, staff and visitors are not required to wear face coverings in classrooms or communal areas. No student should be denied education because they are not wearing a face covering.
  • From 16 August 2021 students under the age of 18 will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace as being in close contact with a positive Coronavirus case. Instead, they will be informed that they have been in close contact with a positive case and will be given age-appropriate testing advice. Only Covid-positive students will be required to self-isolate.
  • Schools and colleges will no longer be expected to undertake contact tracing. Close contacts will be identified and informed via NHSTest and Trace.
  • FE colleges (but not ITPs and Adult Community Learning Providers) should offer students two on-site lateral flow device tests 3-5 days apart on their return to college in the autumn term. Colleges can commence testing from 3 working days before the start of term and can stagger the return of students across the first week to help manage this. Students and staff should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.
  • FE colleges (but not ITPs and ACLPs) should also retain a small Asymptomatic Testing Site on-site until further notice so they can offer testing to students who are unable to test themselves at home.
  • ITPs and ACLPs are not required to set up an Asymptomatic Testing Site. All tests should be completed at home by staff and students.
  • All students and staff should be strongly encouraged to take up the offer of both doses of the vaccine as soon as they become eligible.

On 19 July, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued advice on the vaccination of children and young people (see here for a copy). The advice said that those over 18, and teenagers within three months of their 18th birthday should be offered the vaccine, as should young people aged 16 and 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk from Covid. However, the JCVI did not advise the routine vaccination of young people outside of these groups. On 23 July, the University and College Union (UCU) wrote to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education in England saying that relaxing of Covid restrictions will result in colleges becoming ‘incubators of Covid’ and called for the vaccination of all students and staff to become a government priority.

On 26 July, it was reported that that the prime minister, Boris Johnson, had suggested that other than for those with medical exemptions, students in FE and HE should be required to be double vaccinated before being allowed to return to college or university (see here and here for more on this). When asked to comment, the DfE did not rule this out. It is thought that such a move (along with others such as making ‘vaccination passports’ a condition for being allowed to attend Premier League football matches) would help address the slow take up of the vaccine by many young people, with some refusing to be vaccinated at all. However, ‘Jo Grady, the General Secretary of UCU said that making vaccinations compulsory as a condition to allowing students to access their education was wrong and would be hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students. And David Hughes, the Chief Executive of the AoC said that It would be premature to make vaccine passports a condition for allowing access to FE provision because under 18s are generally unable to access vaccines and even if they could, the eight-week gap between doses, means that any student, under 18 or 19+, getting their first vaccination now would not be eligible for their second vaccination until after the start of the new term.


Earlier this month the DfE published its draft ‘Statutory guidance for further education colleges, sixth form colleges and designated institutions’ (see here for a copy). The guidance sets out how college governors will be expected to comply with a new statutory duty set out in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to regularly review how well the education and training their college provides meets the local skills and employment needs identified in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). The Bill also contains proposals to give the DfE more powers to intervene in colleges that are unable to demonstrate that they are adequately meeting local skills and employment needs. In the guidance, the DfE says that governing bodies must:

  • Undertake regular reviews of how well college provision meets local skills and employment needs.
  • Undertake a review at least once every three years.
  • In reviewing provision, collaborate with other governing bodies also serving the local area.
  • Publish the outcome of their reviews on their websites.
  • Consider what actions they can take to better meet local skills and employment needs, including changes to the structures through which provision is delivered (e.g. mergers with other colleges).
  • Ensure the college develops strong partnerships with Chambers of Commerce, other employer bodies and individual employers to support the delivery of provision that meets local skills and employment needs.
  • Ensure the college provides students with high-quality careers education, information and advice.

The guidance also provides governors with questions to consider while undertaking these reviews, including:

  • What is the relevant local area for the purposes of the review?
  • What is the curriculum offer of other colleges in the area?
  • How have local employment needs changed and how might they change in the future?
  • How well does the colleges current offer align with needs identified in the LSIP?
  • Are there gaps in the current or planned curriculum offer leading to an undersupply of provision?
  • How does the current quality of provision impact on the college’s ability to meet local skills and employment needs?
  • How does the college’s financial position impact on its capacity to meet local skills needs and employment needs?
  • What changes to the structure of local provision are needed to help improve the way in which local skills and employment needs are met?
  • How well does the current post-16 curriculum offer support the local authority’s responsibilities in relation to those who are NEET (not in education, employment or training)?
  • How well are the needs of learners with SEND being met?
  • What are the key messages from feedback received from the college’s key stakeholders and users?

The new duty on governors will come into force two months after the Skills and Post -16 Bill is enacted and will be reviewed in 2025.


In the Skills for Jobs White Paper published in January (see here for a copy), the government outlined proposals to give colleges more autonomy by relaxing ringfences and introducing multi-year funding, whilst at the same time subjecting them to more scrutiny in respect of the outcomes they deliver. On 15 July, the DfE launched a consultation on ‘Reforms to Further Education Funding and Accountability’ (see here for a copy) which, amongst other things, is intended to help deliver these changes.

With reference to funding, the reforms being proposed will currently only apply to adult provision and not to 16-19 or apprenticeship provision. In the consultation, the DfE says that it is seeking views on:

  • Establishing a new Skills Fund to bring together all direct funding for adult skills.
  • Ensuring the system can support both qualification-based provision and non-qualification provision so adults can retrain and upskill in the most effective way.
  • How a needs-based approach could be introduced to distribute funding across the country.
    • How funding can be most effectively distributed between colleges in non-devolved areas, in particular.
    • What a simpler formula might look like if a system based on funding learners is retained.
    • Moving to a lagged funding system.
    • Delivering a multi-year funding regime.
  • What entitlements and eligibility rules should apply in a new system.
  • How funding for ITPs and other non-grant funded providers would work in a reformed system.

With reference to accountability, the DfE is seeking views on:

  • The outcomes colleges should be expected to deliver
  • A new Performance Dashboard, including a new skills measure that will capture how well a college is delivering local and national skills needs.
  • An enhanced role for Ofsted to inspect how well a college is delivering local and national skills needs.
  • Enabling the FE Commissioner to enhance their existing role, with a renewed focus on driving improvement and championing excellence.
  • Improving data quality and reducing the requirements placed on providers through student data collection and financial reporting.
  • Retaining sufficient regulation and oversight to ensure the effective operation of the market, including providing assurance on the use of public funds.

The consultation closes on 7 October.


As mentioned in the accountability section above, part of the consultation proposals refers to a new skills measure on how well a college is delivering courses that meet local skills and employment needs. The proposed skills measure is intended be a part of a new performance dashboard being proposed for colleges, which will provide a ‘…performance snapshot of individual colleges for all interested parties and for public scrutiny, as well as an overview of how well the local and national further education system is performing’. The metrics are still to be developed, but the DfE says that it expects Ofsted will consider the new skills measure when deciding which colleges to inspect as part of its risk-based assessment for planning inspections. The DfE also says that if a college is underperforming on this aspect of the proposed skills measure, the FE Commissioner will be asked to intervene.

In all of this, although much mention is made of increased focus on outcomes and levels of accountability for colleges, there is no mention of any plans to increase colleges’ core funding. This conjures up the parable of the farmer who spent so much time weighing his prize pig he forgot to feed it and the poor pig starved to death.


On the other hand, the government is putting substantial sums of money into FE schemes and projects.

On 19 July the DfE announced the first local LSIP trailblazer areas and Strategic Development Fund (SDF) pilots (see here for details). These are both integral parts of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill currently passing through Parliament.

LSIPs are intended to provide employers in a central role working with further education colleges, other providers and local stakeholders to shape technical skills provision so that it meets local skills and employment needs, and £4 million has been provided for the pilots.

The SDF will provide £65 million in capital grant funding for projects that build providers’ capacity to meet locally agreed skills priorities identified in LSIPs.

Both are part of the government’s ‘Skills Accelerator Programme’, further information on which can be found in the application document for those interested in participating in the pilots (see here).


On 15 July the DfE launched a consultation on the government’s free Level 3 qualification entitlement offer for adults, and on other schemes such as Skills Boot Camps and new short courses in digital and technical skills, which will be financed through the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund (NSF) The consultation was originally intended to be launched in the spring but was deferred because of the pandemic. The DfE says that the responses received will help shape the provision which is currently funded through National Skills Fund investment and how it will impact on meeting critical skills needs not currently being met. See here for a copy of the consultation and here for further details of the NSF (which was launched last December and updated by the government on 15 July). The consultation closes on 17 September.


For 2019/20, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) announced that the clawback threshold for programme delivery funded through the Adult Education Budget (AEB) would be lowered to 68%. This was in recognition of the impact of coronavirus pandemic on the ability of colleges and other providers to meet their delivery targets. However, on 22 March this year, the ESFA announced (see here) that despite the ongoing impact of COVID, instead of maintaining the reduced threshold at 68%, for 2020/21 it would be reduced from the usual reconciliation rate of 97% down to 90%. The ESFA justified its decision by saying that the latest data from providers indicated that they ‘…have been able to continue remote delivery successfully during lockdown’. Outraged providers begged to differ and argued that a tolerance of just 10% was ‘…never going to be fair in a year disrupted by the pandemic from the outset’, and that their finances would be further destabilised.

Initially, the ESFA refused to modify its position, but on 14 July the ESFA published an update (see here for a copy) which said that the agency was now prepared to:

  • Review whether local circumstances have made it impossible for providers to deliver at or close to the 90%.
  • Review whether the full recovery of funds based on the 90% threshold would lead to the costs of AEB delivery not being covered and would cause providers significant financial difficulties.
  • Allow providers to submit business cases explaining why it has been impossible to deliver at or close to the 90% level’ and the impact of the recovery of funds on the provider’s finances.

The ESFA also said that it would continue to fund delivery up to 103% of providers’ ESFA-funded AEB grant allocation and from 110% to 130% for 16-18 and 19-24 traineeships in cases where providers have over-delivered. However, the agency warned that arrangements will return to the normal 97% clawback threshold in 2021/22. Providers have generally welcomed the ESFA’s change of stance for this year but have been given only a few weeks to return the financial information required.


The Apprenticeships Reform Programme was established in May 2015 and was scheduled to be completed by the end of the 2020/21. On 21July the DfE published its final progress report against key performance measures. The report says that by January 2021:

  • There had been 2,373,100 starts, against a target of 3 million.
  • 3% of starts were apprentices of BAME backgrounds, against a target of 11.7%.
  • 5% of starts were apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities, against a target of 12.1%.
  • The achievement rate for apprenticeship standards has gone up from 46.9% in 2018/19 to 58.7% in 2019/20.
  • The duration of apprenticeships at all levels has increased from an average of 406 days in 2011/12 to an average of 621 days in 2019/20.
  • In 2019/20, 74.6% of new starts were on the new standards. This increased to 98.3% in the first two quarters of 2020/21.
  • The Further Education Skills Index for apprenticeships fell by 26% in 2018/19 and a further 17% in 2019/20. The DfE says the decline has been driven by a fall in participation in apprenticeships, resulting in lower achievement volumes, and by Covid restrictions. (The FE Skills Index estimates the aggregate monetary value of the skills supplied by the FE system each year by aggregating earnings returns for all adult learners and apprentices who successfully complete their courses).
  • The average value-added of individual apprenticeships has increased each year, with each learner who completed an apprenticeship in 2019/20 generating 27% more value than in 2012/13. This has been driven by a shift from intermediate apprenticeships towards advanced and higher apprenticeships, and towards sector subject areas associated with higher wages (e.g. engineering, construction, and ICT).

A copy of the report can be found here.


Earlier this month, the ESFA published its latest funding rules for apprenticeship programmes starting between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022. A summary of the main changes in the rules can be found here, and changes in the specific funding rules for each provider type is given below:

  • Rules for employers can be found here
  • Rules for employer-providers can be found here
  • Rules for main providers can be found here

A review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges was commissioned by the DfE and carried out by Ofsted. Ofsted’s report was published on 10 June and a copy can be found here. Following on from this, earlier this month the DfE published an updated version of its guidance called ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (see here for a copy). The updated guidance includes further advice on how to support young victims of sexual violence and harassment, and peer-on-peer abuse. The guidance says that it is essential that all victims are reassured that they are being taken seriously when they make a report and that they will be supported and kept safe. The new and updated sections in the guide include:

A new section on online safety content, breaking down the risks into four areas:

  • Content (e.g. being exposed to illegal or harmful content, for example, pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicide, anti-Semitism, radicalisation and extremism).
  • Contact (e.g. being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users, including commercial advertising and adults posing as children).
  • Conduct (e.g. personal online harm, for example making, sending and receiving explicit images).
  • Commerce (e.g. online gambling and gaming).

A new section on child criminal and sexual exploitation

  • With regards to child sexual exploitation, the section says that this can include non-contact activities, such as involving children in the production of sexual images, forcing children to look at sexual images, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse, including via the internet.
  • With regards to child criminal exploitation, the section says that children may be coerced into county lines gangs or carrying knives, and although they may often commit crimes themselves, their vulnerability as victims is not always recognised by adults and professionals, and they are not treated as victims despite the harm they have experienced.

An updated section on peer-on-peer abuse

This section states that it is essential that all staff understand the importance of challenging inappropriate behaviours between peers. For example, sexual harassment should not be dismissed ‘just banter’. In worst-case scenarios, says the guidance, this can lead to a culture that normalises abuse, leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it.

A new section on allegations made by pupils/students against teachers 

This section deals with unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious reports against school or college staff (as opposed to allegations that are substantiated, for which there will be different procedures). The section says ‘If a report is determined to be unsubstantiated or malicious, the designated safeguarding lead should consider whether the child making the allegation needs help or may themselves have been abused by someone else and this is a cry for help.


Ofsted has now confirmed that when inspections return to normal in September, they will include an assessment of how well sexual abuse records are maintained by schools and colleges and how effective their procedures are in handling sexual abuse related incidents. This will be part of the arrangements for inspecting safeguarding, and inspectors will meet with groups of learners in single-sex groups as part of their evidence gathering. Ofsted has also updated its FE and Skills Inspection Handbook which will come into effect in September 2021 (see here for a copy). The update includes new section entitled ‘Sexual harassment and violence and online sexual abuse between learners who are children or young people’. The updated handbook says that where colleges do have not adequate processes in place for dealing with sexual abuse, safeguarding will be considered ineffective. This in turn can impact on the leadership and management judgement and can cause the overall effectiveness grade to be judged as inadequate.


Ofsted has also updated the section in its inspection handbook that covers careers guidance. The update comes in the wake of mounting pressure from politicians and others for Ofsted to take stronger action in cases where schools fail to comply with their statutory obligations arising from the ‘Baker Clause’. This refers to an amendment to the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 (see here) moved by Lord Baker which, since January 2018, has made it a legal requirement for all local authority maintained schools and academies in England to give FE providers the opportunity to talk to pupils in years 8 to 13 about VTQs and apprenticeships. Schools are also required to publish a policy statement outlining how providers can gain access to these pupils and the rules for granting and refusing access.

The majority of schools have thus far ignored this legal requirement, presumably in order to maximise the numbers of pupils progressing to their own sixth forms. However, Ofsted now says that from this September, if a school is not meeting its legal obligations in respect of the Baker clause, inspectors will report on what impact this has had on pupils’ personal development and that, in turn, this may impact on the school’s leadership and management and overall effectiveness grades.


On 14 July, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in partnership with Birkbeck College, University of London, published their 2021 Education and Skills Survey. A copy of the report along with the survey findings can be found here. Key findings include the following:

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, businesses are increasing their investment in skills

  • Businesses are planning to increase their investment in skill straining and development over the next year. 53% of firms responding say they will increase investment, compared to just 3% who plan to lower it. 41% of firms say they intend to increase their investment above pre-pandemic levels, with just 5% saying they will lower it.
  • There is growing employer demand for people with skills at all levels over the next 5 years. 31% of firms on balance are expecting to increase their need for people with entry-level skills, 38% with intermediate level skills, 39% with higher-level skills, 18% with postgraduate skills and 41% with other work skills.
  • Businesses are confident about being able to access the skills they need at every level in the next three to five years, with 78% of respondent firms confident about recruiting people with entry-level skills, 77% with intermediate-level skills and 77% with higher-level skills.
  • Firms are less confident about being able to access people with skills not attached to national qualifications (65% confident compared to 31% not confident).
  • There is strong competition for candidates with appropriate qualifications.
  • Employers identified a lack of candidates with appropriate industry relevant qualifications and poor careers advice about different routes into work, for example about apprenticeships, as being amongst the main reasons for skills shortages.
  • Respondent firms identified industry-specific technical knowledge, leadership and management skills, and digital skills as their biggest priority for development over the next three to five years.

Businesses value online learning.

The pandemic has caused a shift from classroom-based learning to online learning in the past year with 67% of firms increasing their online training. In addition, 90% of respondent firms rated online learning as an effective form of training for developing employees’ knowledge.

Adult education and lifelong learning are priorities for businesses

  • Over the past five years, 50% of firms say they have increased their investment in adult education and lifelong learning, with less than 5% saying they have decreased investment.
  • 60% of firms say they will be increasing their investment in adult education and lifelong learning in the next five years, with just 1% decreasing their investment.
  • Employers still face significant barriers to meeting their skills needs through adult education. These included the practical challenges of Covid, a lack of funding, prohibitively expensive training, difficulty in finding time for employees to do training and a lack of local high-quality provision.

Businesses are looking to support young people in response to the coronavirus pandemic

  • Most respondent firms say they are confident in their ability to support young people in work.
  • 33% of respondents said that they had already applied, or are intending to apply, to the government’s Kickstart scheme, with 33% responding that they were undecided as to whether to apply, and 22% not planning to apply.
  • Of the businesses not planning to apply to the Kickstart scheme, the most cited reasons were business pressures making engagement difficult (33%), not having the requisite infrastructure to host placements (24%), and there being too much bureaucracy involved in applying (22%).

Employers have had challenges engaging in the education system in the past year, but are preparing to play a bigger part as the economy comes out of crisis mode

  • 71% of businesses said they had links with schools, colleges, and universities, down from 91% in 2019.
  • Businesses were most likely to have links with universities (84%), followed by colleges (77%) and schools (74%).
  • Most employers rated attitude to, and aptitude for, work as most important when recruiting school, college and university leavers.
  • 45% of respondent firms plan to increase their engagement with schools, 43% with colleges and 43% with universities.
  • While over 53% of respondents reported having faced no barriers to engaging with education institutions in the last 12 months, 34% of businesses said they struggle to find the time to meaningfully engage with the education system.
  • Of respondents who are engaged with the education system, 79% provide work experience placements and 72% provide careers advice and motivational talks. 28% said they had already delivered T-Level placements and 50% said they would consider doing so in future.

Apprenticeships are valued, but the levy remains a barrier to increasing investment in training

  • 67% of respondent firms were offering apprenticeship programmes, down from 85% in 2019.
  • 43% of firms expect to expand their apprenticeship provision in the next 12 months relative to the last year, while just 1% plan to reduce them.
  • 61% of firms want to see improvements in the way the apprenticeship levy is administered and more control over the type of training levy funds are spent on.
  • Of those firms that pay the apprenticeship levy, 39% have increased the number of apprenticeships they offer, but 50% have not increased their overall investment in training.

The Office for Students (OfS) has published a report entitled ‘The Financial Sustainability of Higher Education Providers in England’ (see here for a copy). The report examines data from universities and other HE providers and finds that the sector projects a decline in financial performance in 2020/21 followed by a slow recovery from 2021/22 onwards, with continued income growth, backed by strong recruitment of both domestic and international students in the medium or longer term. However, the report notes that a range of factors could affect these projections including the emergence of new Covid variants, the pace of wider economic recovery following the pandemic and the need to secure financial sustainability of university pension schemes. It would be interesting to see an analysis of what the effect on these projections would be if universities suddenly had to manage with FE levels of funding.

The OfS report says that:

  • Overall sector income is projected to increase from £34.7 billion in 2018/19 to £40.7 billion in 2023/24. This projection assumes that there will be no material change to the overall level of teaching funding, whether through tuition fees or government grant.
  • During the pandemic, income from course fees and research funding increased, but was largely offset by reductions in other income streams such as catering and conferences. These income streams are expected to recover as coronavirus restrictions ease
  • Universities and other HE providers have been able to find efficiencies and reduce cash outflows in response to the financial risks of the pandemic and have been able to access financial support from the government. Some universities have agreed short-term loan facilities with their bankers, such as overdrafts or revolving credit facilities, as contingent arrangements to support cashflow. Many of these facilities remain undrawn but are in place as contingency support if needed in the future.
  • Providers project a significant growth in aggregate student numbers by 12.3% between 2020/21 and 2024/25. Students from the UK are projected to increase by 12.3%, and non-EU international students by 29.5%. Recruitment from within the EU is expected to decline by 34.8% in the same period.

The government has expressed concerns that too many young people are going to university who do not benefit from their degree when trying find a job after graduating because of poor standards of literacy and numeracy. The Secretary of State for England, Gavin Williamson, is also on record as questioning whether an 18-year-old who has not yet passed a Level 2 qualification in English and maths would able to progress effectively straight to studying for a Level 6 qualification without those adequate literacy and numeracy skills (see here). In addition, concerns have also been made at the practice of some universities deciding not to mark down basic spelling and grammatical errors when awarding grades (see here). Those opposed to the setting of minimum standards have accused ministers of wanting to control numbers going to university to keep down the escalating cost of funding the student loan system.


Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, a college decided to reopen its training restaurant to members of the public. One day, towards the end of the summer term, a man came into the restaurant carrying a plastic bag full of water containing a large goldfish. A student on reception nevertheless gave him a menu and guided him to a table where he sat down and ordered a meal. On noticing this, one of the catering lecturers rushed over to ask him what he was doing, but before she could say anything the man asked, ‘Do you do fish cakes?’. The flustered member of staff replied that they didn’t. ‘That’s a pity’, said the man pointing at the goldfish, ‘It’s his birthday’.

You will no doubt be relieved to learn that, as in previous years, there will be no August edition of the newsletter. Normal service will be resumed in September, whether you like it or not. Meanwhile, from all at Click, we hope you have an enjoyable and restful break before fresh mayhem returns in the new term.

Alan Birks – July 2021

As usual, the views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those held by Click.
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