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Developments in Qualifications’ - 2015 onward

  • A survey of businesses by the British Chamber of Commerce in 2014 identified that 88% believe school leavers and 54% believe graduates aren’t prepared for work becasue of;

    • Lack of soft skills and focus on employability

    • Poor careers advice

    • Lack of work experience

  • Ofsted's  new common inspection framework places a greater emphasis on the relevance of courses and training in further education and skills.

  • And from 2016, the progress measure in 16-19 performance tables will report level 3 academic qualifications (such as A levels) and level 3 tech levels and applied general qualifications.

  • From 2017, the measures will also report technical certificates.


Post 16


Changes to A levels


New AS and A levels will be taught in schools in England from September 2015. The first results for the new AS levels will be in 2016, and for the A levels in 2017. Further subjects will be introduced over the following two years.


The main features of the new qualifications are:

  • Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills.

  • AS and A levels will be assessed at the end of the course. AS assessments will typically take place after 1 year’s study and A levels after 2.

  • The courses will no longer be divided into modules and there will be no exams in January.

  • AS and A levels will be decoupled – this means that AS results will no longer count towards an A level, in the way they do now.

  • AS levels can be designed by exam boards to be taught alongside the first year of A levels.


The content for the new A levels has been reviewed and updated with universities playing a greater role in this for the new qualifications than they have previously.


There are three vocational options for 16-19 year olds:


Applied General qualifications are rigorous advanced (level 3) qualifications that equip students with transferable knowledge and skills. Taught from September 2014, they are for post-16 students wanting to continue their education through applied learning. They fulfil entry requirements for a range of higher education courses, either by meeting entry requirements in their own right or being accepted alongside and adding value to other qualifications at the same level.


Tech Levels are rigorous advanced (level 3) technical qualifications, on a par with A levels and recognised by employers. Taught from September 2014, they equip students with specialist knowledge and skills, enabling entry to an Apprenticeship, other skilled employment or a technical degree. Backed by employers, they will equip young people with the specialist knowledge they need for a job in occupations ranging from engineering, to computing, hospitality to accountancy. In some cases they provide a ‘licence to practise’ or exemption from professional exams.

Tech Levels are one of the components of the TechBacc measure, which recognises the highest level of technical training. For courses taught from September 2014 it will measure the achievement of students taking advanced (level 3) programmes which include a Tech Level, Level 3 maths and an Extended Project Qualification.


Substantial Vocational Qualifications/Technical Certificates at level 2 provide students aged 16 to 19 with a route into a skilled trade or occupation, where employers recognise entry at this level (most construction trades, care work and hairdressing, for example).  They will also provide access to Tech Levels. Taught from September 2015, they require public backing from employers, giving students’ confidence that the qualification they are taking is genuinely valued. Substantial Vocational Qualifications at level 2 support entry to a wide range of trades and practical occupations from plumbing to brick-laying, or horticulture to professional cookery. Like Tech Levels, they will offer students the chance to acquire the skills and expertise needed for the real economy – and provide a passport to a good job or a great apprenticeship.

Technical certificate qualifications range in size from 150-800+. A number of BTECs, Cambridge Technicals and City & Guild qualifications have been accredited in this category. Further details can be found HERE



Core Maths

Core Maths is a level 3 mathematics course for students in post-16 education who have passed GCSE Mathematics at Grade C or above but are not taking A-level Mathematics.  It is half the size of an A-level, with two end-of-course examinations.

The content is based around the new GCSE Maths Higher Tier (first teaching 2015), with around 20% taken from other qualifications, for example A-level Maths.

The qualification will be considered for:  UCAS points; 16 to 19 Level 3 maths performance; measure for schools and colleges; the maths element of the new Tech Bacc.

The intention is for students to retain, deepen and extend their mathematical understanding. This will be done through using mathematics to solve meaningful and relevant problems and thus better prepare these young people for university, employment and life. They have been designed for two-year programmes.

Core Maths is a descriptor for a range of different level 3 qualifications; it is not a qualification title in itself.  Each qualification will have the following UCAS tariff: A - 60, B - 50, C - 40, D - 30, E - 20.

For example, OCR and Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) have jointly developed two new qualifications designed to meet the Core Maths requirements: Level 3 Certificate in Quantitative Reasoning (MEI) and Level 3 Certificate in Quantitative Problem Solving (MEI).

Six ‘early adopters’ in Bristol


16-19 Study Programmes

For the non-qualification element, institutions will need to show how they are improving their students’ employability skills through experience in the workplace and participation in other activities of value which do not necessarily lead to qualifications but enable progression to higher levels or study and/or into employment.


Pre 16



New GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths will be taught in schools in England from September 2015, with the first results issued in August 2017.

Further subjects will see new GCSEs introduced over the following two years.


The main features of the new GCSEs are:


  • A new grading scale of 9 to 1 will be used, with 9 being the top grade. This will allow greater differentiation between students and will help distinguish the new GCSEs from previous versions.

  • Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills.

  • There will be new, more demanding content, which has been developed by government and the exam boards.

  • Courses will be designed for two years of study – they will no longer be divided into different modules and students will take all their exams in one period at the end of their course.

  • Exams can only be split into ‘foundation tier’ and ‘higher tier’ if one exam paper does not give all students the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities.

  • Resit opportunities will only be available each November in English language and maths.


Technical awards are broad, high quality level 1 and level 2 qualifications that equip students aged 14-16 with applied knowledge and associated practical skills not usually acquired through general education. At key stage 4, students are encouraged to take up to three technical awards alongside a minimum of five academic GCSEs from the list of EBacc subjects.


In 2015, a maximum of two vocational qualifications will count towards key stage 4 performance tables, but this will change to three from 2016 and as Progress 8 is rolled out fully.