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Consultation on review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 in England

Date: November 2 - 2020

On 23 October Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the launch of the second consultation in the review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 in England. The consultation sets out detailed proposals for targeted government funding of high-quality qualifications to ensure that the best outcomes for students are attained.

The Government is proposing to fund the Access to HE Diploma as a Level 3 qualification into higher education.

The consultation recognises the role that Access to HE Diplomas play in supporting adults who do not have traditional qualifications to progress into higher education and to reskill. It also notes its key role in widening participation in higher education for underrepresented groups and ensuring local provision of national skills that respond quickly to the changing economic climate and key industry skills gaps.

QAA is delighted to see the government’s commitment to funding this high-quality access, allowing an important cohort of students to progress to higher education.

QAA has managed the scheme for the recognition and quality assurance of Access to HE courses since 1997, at the request of the then Secretary of State, Gillian Shephard MP, and as one of our four company objects agreed by the sector. This service is provided for and funded in partnership with the Access Validating Agencies whom we license, and by our institutional members. We work to make sure that Access to HE courses provide a good preparation for higher education for adult students, and that the standard for the award of Access to HE Diplomas is maintained across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Access to HE Diploma has been hugely successful in widening participation in higher education, with a particularly strong record of providing specialist skills as a path towards key occupational courses such as medicine and nursing. Between 2018-19, 23,310 Access to HE students entered higher education, of whom 51% were on health courses.

This year, in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, an Extraordinary Regulatory Framework was put in place to facilitate the award of the Diploma in 2019-20 during the closure of schools and colleges.

Under the framework, over 22,000 AHE students were awarded their Diploma, with a similar national distribution of Pass, Merit and Distinction grades awarded as a proportion of graded credit to the previous year. Robust quality assurance mechanisms were implemented to test both the grades achieved and those calculated to ensure fairness for Access to HE students. Higher education professionals working with our AVAs as external moderators were involved in these quality assurance mechanisms. Postcodes did not form part of the standardisation tools applied during the quality assurance of grades for Access to HE Diplomas. As a result, universities and colleges who have recruited Access students this year can be confident in the rigour of their QAA Access to Higher Education Diplomas.

To submit a response to the consultation please visit The consultation closes on 15 January 2021.