Following the publication of the DfE’s review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below, OCR’s CEO, Jill Duffy, recently shared what schools and colleges are telling us about why Applied General Qualifications matter for their students.
Applied General Qualifications (AGQs) are Level 3 qualifications for 16-19 year olds which aim to give students a strong but broad understanding of an occupational sector and to allow entry to higher education courses. Notable examples include OCR’s Level 3 Cambridge Technicals and some ‘BTECs’.
Ofqual has also joined the chorus of voices warning against any thoughts of abolishing Applied General Qualifications. Ofqual is right to signal in its response to the DfE review that AGQs are an important option to those students who are not suited to either T Levels or an unleavened diet of A Levels.
In fact, there are lots of reasons why we think AGQs are going to be around for a good few years yet – here are ten of them:
1. AGQs have a proven track record in providing access to higher education - one in four young people going to university holds at least one AGQ. The growth of the AGQ route into higher education is something highlighted in the Augar Post-18 Review of Education and Funding.
2. AGQs are distinct from A Levels because they include both examinations and practical, applied assessments that nurture exactly those skills valued by higher education.
3. AGQs can be taken alongside A Levels or other AGQs as part of a mixed programme which allows for breadth and the development of a full range of skills.
4. AGQs are more rigorous than they used to be. The ‘reformed’ versions include examined components, and have more rigorous content. In 2018, 71% of Cambridge Technicals candidates achieved Distinction*-Merit, compared to 78.4% A*-C at A Level.
As part of the government review of post-16 qualifications, where ‘like for like’ qualifications existed, unreformed Level 3 vocational qualifications will be defunded from August 2020, but the reformed, more rigorous Level 3 Applied General Qualifications will continue to be funded to support learners’ post-16 study programmes.
5. AGQs aren’t as numerous or confusing as you’d think: there are 138 AGQs but there are over 450 A Levels. ‘Applied Generals’ is fast becoming established as the umbrella term which brings together qualifications such as Cambridge Technicals and Level 3 BTECs into a single, recognised category.
6. According to DfE figures, retention rates for A Levels are falling – more students on linear, two-year A Level programmes are dropping out. At the same time retention rates for Applied Generals are going up.
7. AGQs are a good route into employment and higher level training, including apprenticeships. Although designed primarily as preparation for undergraduate study, OCR has worked closely with employers to ensure they can also provide up to date and relevant preparation for industry. Employers we have worked with include: IBM, UK Athletics, Alton Towers, Jaguar Land Rover, Kings College Hospital, Siemens and Fujitsu.
8. AGQs play an important part in supporting social mobility and widening participation. People taking AGQs are more representative of the wider population than those taking A Levels and AGQs are significant in providing a route into HE for the disadvantaged.
9. AGQs help 16 year olds to keep their options open. Unlike T Levels, an Applied General does not require a commitment to a career in a specific sector from the age of 16. Alison Wolf, in her Review of Vocational Education, pointed to a global trend of ‘delaying specialisation’ by encouraging people to study a broad curriculum up until the end of compulsory education.
10. AGQs appeal to young people to fulfil their aspirations. The whole debate about the future direction of qualifications has to be about the real life young people that take them and their real life aspirations. We’ve been collecting real stories about real learners at OCR. Here are just a few of them:
Visit the OCR website for further updates on Cambridge Technicals.
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Paul Steer, OCR Head of Policy
Paul Steer is Head of Policy, with responsibility for shaping OCR policy on educational matters and influencing external policy developments. Paul and his team work closely with a wide range of potential partners and stakeholders in the education community to support OCR’s aims of enabling all learners to reach their full potential and to recognise and celebrate their achievements.
With over twenty-five years’ experience in education and assessment, Paul has been involved with a wide range of national advisory groups. He writes regular columns including ‘The Last Word’ for OCR’s Policy Briefing and regular ‘Insights’ for the Cambridge Assessment website. He has led on a variety of developments within OCR across the full range of vocational, technical and general qualifications.