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Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications in England

avq-report-thumbnail-gifHow can we ensure that adult vocational qualifications are valued as worthwhile investments, enabling individuals to progress in their careers and employers to grow their businesses and improve their competitiveness? Through our Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications in England, we have set out a vision of how adult vocational qualifications can match and assess skills needs more effectively, and be used and valued by employers and individuals in England. We have also developed a strategy for achieving that vision.

In spring 2013, Skills and Enterprise Minister, Matthew Hancock asked Nigel Whitehead, BAE Systems Group Managing Director and Commissioner for the UK Commission, to review adult vocational qualifications in England. The review involved analysing the current system for vocational qualifications in England, to identify areas that require improvement and to make recommendations for reform, building on and celebrating what works. On 8th November we published our review (PDF, 1.7 Mb)  which calls for a system in which employers and unions work in partnership with well-regulated awarding organisations and flexible training providers to design, develop and deliver qualifications which provide growth for employers and progression for learners.


Analysing the current system

In reviewing the current system, we talked to those who know it best, across the stakeholder and sector groups.

We recognised that there were many positive elements to build on. We are seeing, for instance, more and more employers realising that adult vocational qualifications can be adapted for business needs, offer good value for money and allow staff to work flexibly at their own pace.

We also drew on the knowledge of past reviews and made connections with current work in this area: 

  • Richard Review of Apprenticeships , in which Doug Richard calls on the government calls to improve the quality of apprenticeships and make them more focused on the needs of employers.
  • The new Tech Levels which mark the most rigorous courses with have the best job prospects. 
  • Commission for Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning , which calls for provision that is collaborative in nature, promoting a two-way street between providers and employers, with a clear line of sight to work. 
  • SFA’s eligibility rules for public funding, which set out requirements for providers to make sure public funding is protected in a proportionate way. 
  • Ofqual’s work on healthy markets, which provides a benchmark for future market information as the sector moves into a period of very significant reform. 
  • Further Education Learning and Teaching Action Group, which explores relevant learning technologies for FE & Skills


Our Vision

Our review forges a new vision for adult vocational qualifications which puts employers and employees first. For individuals to have the skills to succeed and for businesses to flourish, vocational qualifications should be: 

  • Relevant to individuals and employers, and affordable for all sizes of business (including micro-businesses) and for individuals 
  • Rigorous and based on a robust future-looking occupational standard, designed and assessed by the sector 
  • Recognised as worthy of investment, giving a clear signal of the economically-valuable skills, knowledge and understanding required in an occupation now and into the future



The review recommends seven practical steps to achieve this vision: 

  1. Better employer involvement with awarding organisations and providers 
  2. Focus on outcomes for more flexibility 
  3. New design principles for qualifications 
  4. Mandatory reporting on progression 
  5. Joined-up qualifications databases 
  6. Incentivised use of technology 
  7. Better employer input through industrial partnerships

The golden thread running through these recommendations is the advocating of a partnership approach – one which connects employers and unions with well-regulated awarding organisations and flexible training providers in the design, development and delivery of qualifications which provide growth for employers and progression for learners.

Over time, these partnerships will come together and take end-to-end responsibility for workforce development in their sectors. Research testifies to the appetite of employers to take greater ownership of skills. They are willing to step up and take end-to-end responsibility for skills in their sectors. Our review recommends therefore that Government and its agencies step back and allow this to happen. It is only by empowering those who understand their sectors best, by creating the conditions for industrial partnerships to emerge, that skills system can be aligned with business growth and the needs of the wider economy.


Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON said: “This is an excellent step along the road to a new and more robust framework for qualifications, built on clear needs expressed through employers and unions working together. It charts a way forward which will give employers and employees a much stronger skills currency and make a valuable contribution to rebuilding the nation’s skills, based on social partnership”.

Martin Flavell, Vice President, Human Resources, Finmeccanica UK, said: “Nigel Whitehead's Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications is a significant step towards helping to shape the skills that we require as a nation for the future. We believe that placing responsibility on employers and employer representative bodies for skills development will raise the quality and relevance of the training available. Finmeccanica has almost 200 engineering apprentices in training with its apprenticeship training scheme rated as Outstanding by Ofsted.”

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual Chief Regulator, said: ‘This report is a welcome contribution to the important debate about improving the quality and responsiveness of vocational qualifications. Ofqual recognises and accepts the challenge the report sets for us as regulator, working with others. We will reflect carefully on the report’s recommendations as we review the Qualifications and Credit Framework, and more generally as we develop strengthened arrangements for regulating vocational qualifications. We will be saying more in the coming months about our plans.” 

Commenting on the Whitehead Review of Adult Vocational Qualifications, Tim Thomas, Head of Employment Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “A de-cluttering of vocational qualifications is long overdue. Qualifications that remain dormant, unused and irrelevant should be abolished. Ensuring awarding organisations listen to industry is crucial if they are to deliver the relevant and responsive qualifications employers need.

“Moving towards Industrial Partnerships in the longer-term is a must. Employers, unions, awarding organisations and providers makes for a powerful collaboration and Government must create the right environment that allows such Partnerships to form.”

Simon Catford, Corporate Responsibility& Regulatory Director at Viridor said: “Viridor is confident that the Review will lead to a robust, workable and effective framework for Adult Vocational Qualifications and that this will ensure the needs of the employer are met and proper resourced. A qualified and competent workforce is essential to drive business growth and satisfy the needs of our customers, stakeholders and the wider community in which we operate. The reform of Adult Vocational Qualifications will give us the skills we need.”

Jan Smallbone, Director of Talent, Starbucks EMEA added: “We welcome the new proposals which place relevancy and quality at the heart of vocational learning. Flexibility in design and increased collaboration will allow us to provide truly transferable skills which ensure sustainable employment throughout the career journey.”

Dave Newborough, UK HR Director, E.ON commented: “Employers taking ownership of the agenda in terms of adult vocational qualifications is essential, the proposed Whitehead Review aligns with the work that is being developed through the Energy and Efficiency Industrial Partnership. As a member of the EEIP we are fully supportive of this approach and believe that in order to address the skills profile across our industry action needs to be taken collectively and delivered through employer ownership.”

Sangita Chopra, Professional Development Manager, Corporate Programmes, Strategy & Business Units, British Airways added: “British Airways is competing in a global market and that market demands we respond to changing conditions and opportunities rapidly and efficiently. In order to achieve this we are committed to increasing the skills and competence of our workforce, encouraging active participation in a sustainable talent pipeline.

“Our focus is both on young people joining our business as well as our wider workforce. It is no longer sufficient for organisations to concentrate solely on addressing the learning and development needs of just their own people. Through complex supply chains organisations of all sizes, from all sectors, are highly interdependent. Success as businesses and an economy depends on strong collaboration between these organisations. At the heart of this collaboration must be the development of the skills and capabilities of our people. To this end, it is critical that all learning strategies and programmes are relevant to the practical needs of the business, supporting individuals to optimise performance in their roles.

“Delivery and assessment should be robust, giving the individual and employer a clear picture of actual skills and capabilities. This will equip participants with the ability to be flexible in their career choices, driving both workplace satisfaction and long term employability. The inclusion of employers in the design and development of vocational qualifications is to be welcomed in order to ensure that the curriculum is relevant to employers and employees alike.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director, employment and skills group added: “High quality vocational education will be a vital tool in our armoury for tackling the changes in our economy and staying competitive. Improving rigour and making the system easier to access and navigate are a must. Above all, putting employers at the heart of design and delivery will help ensure we have the relevant, future-looking qualifications we need”.

Responding to the report, Ann Watson, Chief Operating Officer of Semta said: "We are delighted and enthused to see how the systems engineering approach, already used by our employers, has been applied to solving problems around adult vocational skills. Semta looks forward to working with its employers and UKCES to help action the seven continuous improvement recommendations."

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Lead Commissioner


"Adult vocational qualifications must be valued by employers and learners, and be considered worth the investment regardless of state funding policy"

Our Commissioner team leading this work

Lead Commissioner: Nigel Whitehead ,
Commissioner, UK Commission for Employment and Skills

Prof. John Coyne, Vice Chancellor, University of Derby
Tony Lau-Walker, Chief Executive Officer, Eastleigh College
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Scott Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Chas Smith Group Ltd