In an extract from OCR’s Agenda newsletter, Paul Steer, Head of Policy, puts these post-16 vocational options side by side.
‘Applied General Qualifications’ (AGQs) are here to stay – that was the decision of a DfE review in March 2017. If you are confused by this, AGQs are Level 3 vocational qualifications typically studied at key stage 5. One of the most prominent examples is OCR’s Level 3 Cambridge Technicals.
However, in the Chancellor’s Spring 2017 budget, funding for the introduction of ‘T Levels’ was announced. These are technical qualifications to be developed as the result of the recommendations of a review of technical education chaired by Lord Sainsbury. Once T Levels have been developed, young people will be given new choices about the post-16 vocational provision on offer.
The first option is the academic route. Predictably this includes A Levels but it also includes AGQs. AGQs are vocational qualifications designed to enable access and progression to higher education.
The second option, the technical route, includes a work-based apprenticeship option and the more ‘study-based’ T Levels. The technical route is designed to prepare people for further employment and training. As Sainsbury puts it: “A [technical] programme must focus on progression into skilled employment and require the acquisition of both a substantial body of technical knowledge and a set of practical skills valued by industry”.
Differently defined sectors
Those opting for the technical route can choose from sectors ranging from Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care, to Transport and Logistics. These disrupt some of the sector groupings traditionally used in Further Education. For example, Health and Social Care now finds itself split between Social Care and Health and Science.
AGQs are not bound by the 15 sectors. Typical AGQ subjects include Health and Social Care, Engineering and Sport. Furthermore, a young person opting for a particular AGQ is not necessarily making a choice about their future career. They could go on to study something different.
Two year programmes
Whereas some AGQs are large enough to take up a whole two year programme of study, they also come in smaller sizes which can be taken alongside a clutch of A Level subjects. T Levels, however, will always take up the major part of a 16-19 programme alongside maths and English and a substantial period of work placement.
Like AGQs, T Levels are mainly envisaged as Level 3 qualifications to be taken over two years. The plan is that there should be higher level technical qualifications to support progression through each of the 15 routes.
Within the technical routes, there will be a common core for the first year of study. This will allow individuals to develop a broad set of knowledge, skills and behaviours common to the range of occupations within that route. In their second year, individuals will specialise. An example given by Sainsbury is of someone studying a common core for Construction in the first year and then specialising in stone masonry. This provides a hint of how varied and numerous the range of technical specialisms might be.
AGQs do not require the level of specialisation expected of T Levels. However, the knowledge requirements and the ability to apply these critically is likely to be a greater feature of AGQs than you would expect to see in the ‘common core’ for T Levels.
Sainsbury recommends that individuals taking T Levels should receive a certificate that captures their experience ‘in the round’. This should include a grade for a T Level component, an indication of the chosen specialism, details of maths and English attainment, and details of the work placement undertaken. By contrast, AGQs are certificated as stand-alone qualifications, separate from other qualifications and other activities that may feature in a young person’s programme of study.
Development and implementation
T Levels will be developed by panels of employers under the direction of a new body called the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). IfATE will franchise the awarding of qualifications to a single body for each of the routes. The first qualifications, according to the current timetable, will be available for teaching from September 2020. This looks ambitious given the scale and breadth of what is proposed.
AGQs are qualifications that already exist with an established track record. However, in recent years they have been modified to include a greater proportion of external assessment. Following the DfE review, Ofqual has been asked to look at strengthening and standardising the range of qualifications that fall into the AGQ category.
So there is much work to be done before any technical education route is fully embedded. While it is early days, it is vital that clear, objective advice and guidance is available to young people about their options and the implications of the choices they make.