What happens when your hard-earned qualifications are not acceptable?

By Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership

Supporting members who are experiencing issues relating to their personal terms and conditions of service is at the core of what we do. A recent case, progressed with the Member Support team, has highlighted the entrenched inequality of access to qualifications.  It also seems at odds with the ESFA’s push for simplification, evidenced in the recently released version of the Academy Trust Handbook and an unnecessary barrier adding fuel to the current recruitment and retention crisis in education. We also believe this is not an isolated case.

The problem we have come up against is that occasionally, particularly amongst our business leader members, the system of establishing the eligibility of qualifications taken abroad against criteria for accessing government funded training based on qualifications taken in this country, is frustratingly complex and inflexible. At the same time, higher level qualifications taken in the UK, which include maths and English, are also not accepted as equivalent to GCSEs in those subjects. Endless time and resources are expended in checking whether qualifications taken abroad by British passport holders are sufficiently comparable with UK qualifications such as GCSEs, while higher level qualifications are dismissed. This can lead to delays in people starting or completing training for work.

The recent case mentioned earlier, and jointly supported by ASCL and the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL), highlighted the problems experienced when higher level degrees were not recognised as prior qualifications which would have exempted the individual from having to take English and maths when applying for an apprenticeship programme.

Even though the individual had achieved a much higher level, these prior qualifications were not on the government’s list of qualifications permitted as GCSE-level equivalents. Hence, although holding degree-level qualifications in these core subjects, the individual was asked to repeat these subjects at level 2. This seems absurd because the individual had achieved qualifications well beyond that recognised as a requirement of the final award.

ASCL and ISBL took up the issue with the relevant government department. Despite the individual appealing directly via the official complaints process, and with ASCL and ISBL subsequently contacting the funding body on their behalf, the matter has not yet been resolved. However, we have been advised that the system is now under review and we can only hope that common sense prevails and the system is changed so that non-UK qualifications and higher qualifications are recognised in a more inclusive and equitable way. 

Call for greater flexibility
ASCL’s call is for greater flexibility in the recognition of qualifications, especially when individuals hold a British passport and, in all other respects, are eligible for government-funded training. Such training is imperative at a time when the country, and education, needs people with higher level skills in maths and English to work in our schools and colleges.

Have you been affected?
We would be grateful if any ASCL members who have had a similar experience to that outlined in this blog would contact us with their details so we can use this information to support our call for change. Please contact us via email at

Thank you for your assistance. 

Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, is ASCL Senior Advisor on College Leadership.

Posted: 19/07/2023 09:48:15