Businesses and universities are being asked to decide which vocational qualifications to include in new league tables for 16-19 year olds. 

Only occupational qualifications that have the backing of either a trade association or five employers registered with Companies House will become so-called 'Tech-levels', or 'T-levels' which will rank alongside A-levels in the new performance tables.

Universities will be the judge for 'applied general qualifications', which will rank alongside AS-levels and will focus on a broader study of a technical area. Unlike Tech-levels, they will not be directly linked to an occupation.

Young people will be able to take these new courses from September 2014, with the performance tables coming into effect from 2016.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said:

"Tech levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education. High-quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity, and the life chances of millions. Because technical education is so important, it is vital the qualifications young people take are stretching, high-quality and support their aspirations.

"These reforms are unashamedly aspirational and will ensure tech levels help people into apprenticeships and jobs. So for the first time we will ensure that exam boards list the employers or universities which support their courses. Only these stretching, strong courses will count in league tables."

Mariane Cavalli, principal of Warwickshire College, welcomed the plans as a step towards raising the status of vocational learning.

She said: "Creating Tech-levels and giving them the same status as A-levels will provide a boost to the reputation and quality of vocational education, which is vital for the economy."

However, the measures sparked concern from others in the FE sector over their reliance on a league table culture, and the fate of qualifications that did not meet the grade.

Chris Jones, chief executive of awarding body City & Guilds, said:

"High-quality vocational qualifications are the key to developing the UK's future workforce and filling the ever-increasing skills gaps, so the excessive focus on league tables in today's announcement is potentially very damaging.

"By only including 'Tech Level' qualifications in the league tables, it infers that many other vocational qualifications are worthless. This is incorrect. As shown by recent research from the IPPR, countries that have more young people engaged in vocational education see lower levels of youth unemployment.

"We have qualifications across a range of industries. All are developed in conjunction with employers to provide a clear pathway for young people, whether they continue in education or progress onto employment."

Despite seeking the endorsement of businesses, Jones said the measures fail to go far enough in addressing the disconnect between employers and education.

"It's not just qualifications that make people employable – it's about having the right attitude and an awareness of the workplace," he said.

"Employers need to provide young people with opportunities to experience the world of work first-hand, not just endorse qualifications."

Natalie Thornhill

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