Paul Steer explains why Applied General Qualifications such as Cambridge Technicals, BTEC, and NVQ will remain alongside T Levels and A levels in post-16 assessment. This article first appeared in OCR's Policy Briefing.
It was good to see Ofqual joining the chorus of voices warning against any thoughts of abolishing Applied General Qualifications. Ofqual is right to signal in its response to the DfE consultation about reviewing post-16 qualifications that Applied Generals, such as OCR’s Level 3 Cambridge Technicals, are an important option to those students who are not suited to either T Levels or an unleavened diet of A Levels.
There are lots of reasons why Applied General Qualifications (AGQs) are going to be around for a good few years yet - here are nine of them:
Access to further education
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 HE is something that is highlighted in the recently published Augar Post-18 Review of Education and Funding.
AGQs are distinct from A Levels because they include both examinations and practical, applied assessments that nurture exactly those skills valued by higher education.
AGQs play an important part in supporting social mobility and widening participation
AGQs are often taken alongside A Levels or other AGQs as part of a mixed or ‘blended’ programme that allows for breadth and the development of a full range of skills.
AGQs are more rigorous than they used to be. The ‘reformed’ versions are subject to greater comparability, include examined components, and have more rigorous content. 71% of Cambridge Technicals candidates achieved Distinction* - Merit, compared to 78.4% A*-C at A Level.
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 category.
According to DfE figures, retention rates for A Levels are falling – more candidates on linear, two year A Level programmes are dropping out. At the same time retention rates for Applied Generals are improving.
71% of Cambridge Technicals candidates achieved Distinction* - Merit, compared to 78.4% A*-C at A Level
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.
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 higher education for the disadvantaged.
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. Professor 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.
Of course these sorts of arguments, compelling as they are, seem rather abstract. 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.
Head of Policy, OCR