Post-16 and HE

ASCL position statements

What is the context?
Over the past decade, the cost of 16-18 education has risen significantly, the needs of students have become more complex, and the government has demanded much more of colleges and schools. But the national funding rate for 16 and 17 year-olds has remained frozen since 2013, at £4,000 per student per year. In the September 2019 spending round, the government announced that it would raise the rate for 16 and 17 year-olds to £4,188 per student.

ASCL position:
ASCL fully supports the Raise the Rate campaign ( in their call for the learner rate to be at least £4,760 per year, and for that rate to be raised in line with inflation each year.

Why are we saying it?
The increase to £4,188 is a welcome first step, but research from London Economics has shown that the rate needs to increase to at least £4,760 per student per year to ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver a high-quality, internationally competitive education. The ongoing underinvestment in 16-18 education is bad for students, bad for our international competitiveness and bad for social mobility. 

What is the context? The overall national education budget should be set such that all educational institutions can be funded at a level that enables them to provide an outstanding quality of education for their students. Education spending is an investment in the future workforce and should reflect the expectations of the nation having a world class education system in future years.

ASCL position: ASCL considers the current quantum of funding for schools and colleges to be wholly inadequate. Unless the situation improves rapidly the opportunities offered to, and the outcomes achieved by, our young people will be significantly compromised.

Why are we saying it? The number of schools posting in-year deficits is increasing. The implementation of the national funding formula (NFF) has not enabled all schools to achieve their gains under the formula. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) total school spending has fallen by 8% in real terms. There is no educational justification for the dip in funding that exists between Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5.

What is the context? The DfE has committed to funding the 2018/19 pay award for teachers. The DfE grant is not intended to cover the first 1% of costs of applying the 2018/19 pay award but should cover everything above that.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that the pay of teachers in all types of sixth form provision should be equally and fairly supported by the teachers’ pay grant.

Why are we saying it? The institutions in scope for the pay grant include maintained schools and academies with pupils aged 2-19. Excluded from scope are sixth form colleges and FE colleges.

What is the context? Changes have been made to the applied general qualification (AGQ) from the QCF to the RGF. The assessment now includes an external test(s), as well as the internally assessed components, which students must pass in order to be awarded the overall qualification. As expected, because of the difficulty of the tests, many students failed this external element.  Because of the high number of failures Ofqual belatedly encouraged awarding organisations to "consider changes" to their grade boundaries to provide a ‘safety net’ for students who narrowly missed a pass on one or more externally-assessed units. This resulted in a new 'N' grade and meant students were now eligible to achieve the full AGQ award. However, many students who received the original fail grade had already left their schools or colleges or started new qualifications.

ASCL position: ASCL welcomes the introduction of the N level pass for the new framework (RQF) applied general qualifications (for example, BTEC). However, this is a solution to a foreseeable problem in the implementation of vocational qualification reform. Late corrections such as this mean that a generation of students has been disadvantaged. We hope that lessons learnt will improve the planning and implementation of the Transition Year and the new T levels.

Why are we saying it? Along with other organisations, ASCL repeatedly warned that the changes to the AGQ, especially the introduction of the external tests would result in many failures as the tests were too difficult. However these recommendations were ignored and resulted in many young people having disrupted educational experiences including becoming NEETs. It also meant that schools and colleges missed out on funding as the students did not progress to their next year.

What is the context? Post-16 vocational education is undergoing a number of developments such as T levels, in response to the Sainsbury review and subsequent Skills Plan.

ASCL position: Applied general qualifications (AGQs), such as BTEC level 3, are an important and established part of the educational landscape. They are taken by large numbers of 16-19 year-old students, both as an entire programme and blended with other qualifications such as A levels. They provide both a tried and tested route to employment and an important progression route to higher education.

Why are we saying it? ASCL believes strongly that none of the proposed developments adequately replaces the AGQ and the quality and flexibility it provides.

ASCL recognises the enormous contribution SPA has made to practice in HE admissions. It is regrettable that the HE community through UCAS has chosen to withdraw funding. The function of protecting applicants needs to be taken on by another body such as the new Office for Students. 

ASCL welcomes the Parliamentary Education Committee inquiry into value for money in higher education. Student finance represents one of the most significant investments young people make. It is vital that they can trust in a fair and transparent system which ensures that repayment thresholds keep pace with inflation and interest rates are proportionate.

Employers and HE institutions involved in recruiting to degree apprenticeships should ensure the channels used to advertise vacancies and process applications are clear, transparent and accessible to all - and are inclusive of the wide range of qualifications learners take – not just A levels. Over time we are in favour of a central portal, as is provided by UCAS for undergraduate applications.

Transparent and detailed accountability measures of post-16 education are vital for informing students and their families. They also drive and inform improvement within the system. However, data needs to be accurate, valid and to reflect performance. 

It is often in a student’s best interest to transfer between providers or pathways before completion. In previous census data this was neither fully recorded nor checked. Retrospective use of this data as outcome and destination measures is misleading.

ASCL has serious concerns that the reliability and quality assurance of A level marking is strained to the limit. The high stakes impact of this on the wellbeing and prospects of our young people is too important to be ignored.

Government needs to work with Ofqual and awarding bodies to review processes and examiners’ conditions of work. ASCL will work with awarding bodies to improve the supply of examiners.

The Area Review Process of Post-16 Education and Training is in danger of producing a series of recommendations which only result in structural reform in the sector and fail to reflect any educational vision.

The subsequent reduction in the number of providers with fewer curriculum and training pathways on offer will damage the life chances of many of our young people.

ASCL welcomes Professor Alison Wolf’s “heading for the precipice” report. The inadequate level of post-16 funding combined with swingeing cuts to adult skills endangers quality of provision and sustainability of FE. Communities are in danger of losing the training essential for the employability of many of their young people.

This is a time when this country needs to invest in its workforce, their education and training. Many people, including young adults, benefit from adult learning courses to help them acquire the skills they need to get a job. In order to ensure that the country has the well-educated and fully trained workforce that it needs for its future prosperity the post-19 sector needs a sufficient level of funding.

ASCL supports the principle of post-16 students without a prior GCSE grade C continuing to study English and maths courses. We are concerned however, that the use of achievement in this as an unofficial limiting judgement reduces the likelihood of these students being able to access places.  The development of appropriate courses, which may not necessarily be GCSE, for all learners remains a priority.

ASCL believes that functional skills are more appropriate than GCSE for some students and the decision about which qualifications to study is best taken on an individual basis not by central government.

Reduction of funding for students over the age of 18 unfairly disadvantages many vulnerable students. ASCL strongly urges government to reconsider this decision.

The refusal to fund students retaking courses is iniquitous. The decision over students retaking a course should lie with the professional judgement of the provider who will be held to account by Ofsted and EFA.

ASCL believes that the continuing real term reduction in Post-16 funding threatens curriculum and teaching such that students in schools and colleges are unable to access suitable adequate and meaningful provision. Coupled with this we believe some courses and opportunities will be unavailable to students outside the large conurbations.

Education funding should be treated equitably from 0-18 years and not have a cut-off at 16 years, as at present. Reducing the funding for post-16 makes no sense given the raising of the participation age.