Skills Funding Agency Announces New Rules for the Approval of Qualifications for Adult Funding

At the end of January, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) published a technical document on how they plan to approve Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) qualifications for public funding for adult learners, in England, from 1 February 2014.

Up until August 2013, all qualifications submitted to the QCF were automatically considered for funding by the SFA. Even then, not every qualification achieved funding eligibility, and over the past 12 months the SFA has been removing eligibility from a range of qualifications for which there was little evidence of demand for funding (<100 funded learners over two years).

It should be noted that all that follows does not affect the eligibility of a qualification to be funded as part of an Apprenticeship (in England). Even if a qualification loses its eligibility for adult funding, it can still be funded as part of an Apprenticeship – assuming that it is a named qualification within a specific Apprenticeship Framework.

The new SFA rules aim to prepare the ground for the broader programme of adult vocational reform which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is taking forward. So beware, there is further reform to come!

In introducing its new rules, the SFA aspires to achieve a variety of things, not least: We wish to fund only those qualifications which have high demand from employers and individuals, and support meaningful outcomes in terms of progression to and through work or progression to the next level of learning. Fine words which are quite understandable in these times of public funding austerity; however, what is unclear is whether the voluntary environment within which the majority of people who achieve our qualifications ’work’ will be recognised for the contribution made to the economy and the health and well-being of the nation.

Semantics aside, some of the detail of the new funding application process is quite specific. In relation to the types of QCF-accredited vocational qualifications that 1st4sport offers, we will only be able to secure (and maintain) funding eligibility for qualifications that meet the SFA’s three business rules:

1. Size: Qualifications at Entry or Level 1 must be at least six credits. Qualifications at Level 2 and above must be at least 15 credits.

Effectively this rules out the eligibility for funding of most ‘small’ qualifications, and specifically all QCF Awards at Level 2 and above. There are potential exceptions which can be explored, but how flexible the SFA will be in allowing such is yet to be seen.

2. Purpose: We would say that all our qualifications have a clear purpose; however, the SFA is looking to ensure that all funded qualifications have a clear purpose which is either to be competence-based or to prepare learners for employment or for further learning or training and/or develop knowledge and/or skills in a subject area. In doing so they are excluding any qualifications which don’t meet those specific purposes, including anything specifically developed to be continuing personal development (CPD). As the majority of our qualifications fall into the eligible purpose categories we are comfortable with this requirement.

A second component of the clear purpose rule is that all qualifications must have a clear statement of purpose published via a qualification-specific Purpose Statement on our website. The aim of this statement is to help learners make informed decisions about which qualifications to take. We believe that the purpose of our qualifications is always made clear to learners and employers; but you will start to see our website being populated by Purpose Statements in support of this requirement.

3. Recognition: The expectation is that for any new qualifications seeking to be eligible for funding we will need to: submit letters of support from appropriate organisations that demonstrate support for the qualification as meeting the needs of their learners and/or employees.

The tricky bit here is the definition of appropriate organisations, which the SFA considers to be: from at least three providers which are on our Register of Training Organisations and have current contracts for delivery of provision indicating that the qualification will support learners into a qualification at a higher level. If a qualification is to attract funding, then someone needs to be accessing it, but the challenge seems to be when a niche qualification is only attractive to one contract-holding provider, making it difficult to source three letters!

As already stated, to maintain funding eligibility a qualification must attract in excess of 100 funded learners (outside Apprenticeships), across three SFA-contracted providers, measured over a rolling two-year period.

The impact of the new rules will require 1st4sport to review the funding ‘potential’ of all our qualifications for 2015/16 and before 1 November 2014 submit to the SFA evidence that each qualification meets the three rules above. It will also change some of the conversations that we have with our development/technical partners, ensuring that any expectations of a new qualification attracting public funding are tempered by a reality check in relation to the new rules. While the QCF is currently the gateway to public funding, organisations that are looking to use our external awarding services are likely to be offered a range of awarding services in the future, with having a qualification on the QCF being only one of the options…

…and just to forewarn you about the government’s ongoing change agenda, watch out for The Vocational Qualifications Reform Plan and Ofqual’s pending review of the QCF, both of which will be influenced by last year’s Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications in England, led by Nigel Whitehead.