fe colleges

Is it time to admit that LMI needs a rethink?

Every Careers practitioner understands the value of Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) and the worth of placing advice and guidance in the context of the reality of the world of work their clients will be engaging with. Be it the skill requirements of tomorrow, typical salary expectations for roles or the projected demand and fall in employment sectors, there is no debate on the importance of targeting LMI activities and information throughout an employability program or guidance interview. And, looking at the range of data that is considered LMI,

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What is LMI?

you can see why.

This is reinforced by guidance

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DfE School Careers Guidance

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CDI Employability Framework 2020

so it’s presence becomes a fundamental aspect of any CEIAG quality monitoring process.

LMI also has the backing of research both in graduate employability schemes

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and in the wider theory context

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and is a unit in Careers Adviser training.

Despite this though, there seems to be a lot of evidence that LMI, or rather how LMI is currently being used isn’t winning the hearts and minds of young people in a whole range of career related decisions.

When making decisions about Higher Education for example it seems that the views and opinions of parents are the most valued by young people

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and LMI as presented can fail to remold the inner beliefs of young people that have already taken hold.

Over the past few years, we have spoken to hundreds of students about their next steps. They have consistently emphasised that their parents are their most trusted sources of information and often the “makers or breakers” for students weighing options. Students in Teesside, for example, explained that their sense that colleges or universities are “selling” HE courses was a major turn-off.

Many parents can hold sceptical views about HE, sometimes based on misconceptions. Our 2018 report on parental engagement with university outreach showed that although most, regardless of socio-economic group, want their children to go to university, they also have deep fears about debt, living costs and employment prospects.

These positive or negative views the young person holds towards certain educational pathways are subsets of the general views they have already soaked up regarding the value education can bring to their lives.

It also seems parents and siblings can have significant sway over young people’s decisions and views across the range of career related decisions.

1. Family members remain an important source of information

It is to be expected that family members are a key influence on young people’s educational decisions, with many pupils telling us they discuss their options with their parents and siblings. Some though were surprisingly aware of biases their parents may have.

There should be important lessons here for those who design LMI materials, those who deliver them and those who hope that LMI can assist with their future talent pipelines and, I would propose, lessons could be found in a controversial place.

Much LMI delivery is based around data and presenting statistics in memorable ways through display

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or regional websites to improve the awareness of relevant data. Publishing these statistics in charts and graphs is following the Rationalistic use of LMI described by Staunton

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I would argue though that, as the studies above show, their impact is brief and and insubstantial compared to pull of the family, tradition and community.

This was something that the marketing minds behind the Brexit campaign (in it’s many guises) gleefully and successfully embraced during and after the referendum campaign. Brexit is (still) an emotive issue but putting aside your reaction to the outcome, any observer would surely conclude that the messages of the Leave campaign resonated and hit home with greater impact than anything the Remain campaign produced.

The Remain campaign forlornly churned out numerous press messages based on sourced economic impact work with data and statistics hoping to sway voters by pointing out the economic risks of leaving the EU

Rather than accentuating the positive, Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to scare the electorate into voting their way, arguing that a vote for Leave would plunge the U.K. economy into a recession and cost the average household about sixty-two hundred dollars a year.

Almost all economists agree that the E.U. has been good to Britain. But the sixty-two-hundred-a-year figure was so large, and so specific, that many people didn’t believe it.

Without rehashing an issue that has divided families, generations and the country for three years now, my concern is not with the economic validity of those arguments but that they are weaker arguments to make than the more emotive campaign waged by the Leave side.

Remain also had problems with the message. Its task was inherently more difficult than that of Leave: the arguments for staying in the EU are complicated, economic, numerical, hard to explain and often dull, while the arguments for leaving are simple and emotional.

Posters using queues of refugees to criticize historic immigration levels under EU control or proclaiming that Turkey will soon join the EU are both clearly reprehensible in their message of fear and the highly debatable nature of their accuracy but these were the wilder extreme of the messages disseminated by the campaign to Leave.

Overall their brand and communications tapped into key narratives felt by, demonstrably, a majority of the country; that immigration was too high, that public services were not coping, that the old adage that working hard will bring success had been broken and that the very politicians elected to represent them were not listening to those communities. Again, it is not the validity of those grievances or how culpable the EU is for them that I want to raise, only that they landed with their target audience. One of the main players behind the campaign, Dominic Cummings outlined the reasons for this as

The closest approximation to the truth that we can get is that Leave won because of a combination of 1) three big, powerful forces with global impact: the immigration crisis, the financial crisis, and the euro crisis which created conditions in which the referendum could be competitive; 2) Vote Leave implemented some unrecognised simplicities in its operations that focused attention more effectively than the other side on a simple and psychologically compelling story, thus taking advantage of those three big forces; and 3) Cameron and Osborne operated with a flawed model of what constitutes effective political action and had bad judgement about key people

and it’s his point 2 that LMI campaigners can learn from. Find what resonates with your target audience and tell a story that appeals to that narrative. As we have seen from the studies above, these messages should not just land with young people but also their parents and carers as well if you want to appeal to culture and change decisions.

It feels remiss in a post such as this to not offer some suggestions to clarify how I think this could work for LMI messaging so here goes:

If you want to encourage more young people from disadvantaged or traditional working class backgrounds to apply for your historically privately educated or middle class industry? Those communities feel that there is an us/them approach in those employment spaces and remove those roles from their realistic routes because of this. So use role models at the center of your campaign materials but not, as many firms currently do, as inspirational beacons but as disruptors, shaking up the establishment. Paint them as people who had to fight hard to succeed but they did and no they need your help to battle for their space alongside the more privileged colleagues they work with every day. The pitch is not to follow in the role models footsteps but to join them in this space. This approach would build motivation about wanting to overcome barriers to industries that have been erected to keep people some different backgrounds out.

Trying to increase aspiration to work in your historically low wage sector such as the care industry? Use the lack of local, respected industries that many communities feel do not exist in their area. So forget about using LMI to increase awareness of the growing demand for workers in the sector and use LMI to show the accessibility of work in local communities and show how the work is valued and relied upon in those communities. This would alter the perception of care work to position it as a bedrock of the community with a higher status within that local community.

These are quick suggestions that would still be highly reliant on targeted advertising spending using digital marketing or behavioural science expertise to have any hope of achieving impact on decisions and culture but, I hope, they show how LMI could be framed using narrative to appeal to audiences that require more tailored approaches to reach them. This is something that FE College marketing departments are already utilising based on market research

We discovered we could split our prospects into five distinct groups, ranging from Career-Driven Chris, who has always known that he wanted to become a chef, to A-level Ali, who is very open about the fact that applying to college is only a back-up to A levels.

Both these students could apply to your college, but clearly both will need very different communications to maximise the chance that they will convert. Chris isn’t interested in “college vs school” type blogs or content; he wants to know the latest news from the hospitality team and the restaurants at which former students have gone on to work. Ali, on the other hand, needs to be convinced that a vocational option is a viable alternative to A levels.

Weaving LMI into these more tailored messages aid the narrative the institution wants to tell. For the Career minded applicant, they want to hear of the specific local employers hiring graduates directly from the College catering course while for the back-up applicant, the general wage premiums from a range FE courses would be useful data to include in the messaging sent to them.

Returning to the approaches to LMI proposed by Tom Staunton, these proposed uses of LMI are part of the Radical approach

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for they aim to change the status quo by highlighting certain data or choosing to share certain data points over others. This is a much less prosaic use of LMI than the Rationalistic which comes with the danger of hyperbole but, as the Brexit campaign shows, it is this kind of messaging that can elicit stronger and more lasting reactions and decision change from audiences.

T levels are going to be tough

During the recent years of GCSE and A Level qualification upheaval a CEIAG practitioner working with young people has always had to have a quick mental check of future implementation dates before opening their mouths.

Another forthcoming change that (I hope) school based practitioners are now including in their guidance is the introduction (phased from 2020) of T Levels, a new qualification to be offered by Post 16 providers.

When anything new launches the challenge is to persuade potential first adopters that they will be making a choice that places them at the forefront of a soon to be popular wave and not left to flounder as initial enthusiasm dries to a dribble. I remember students gamely studying the 14-19 Diplomas despite being surrounded by teachers and parents who never understood the thing and who were then left high and dry after the Government PR push failed to inspire buy-in from important stakeholders.

We are promised that T Levels will be different and form one of the main choices for students in the Post 16 landscape alongside A Levels and apprenticeships when they begin to be introduced from September 2020. Many post 16 providers are already in the midst of preparing for them by working on new content outlines and building relationships with employers to offer longer and more in-depth industry placements.

Will, though, suitable advice and guidance about the qualification have percolated through schools and CEIAG practitioners to students and parents?

Getting the message out

It’s safe to say that the full complexities of the new GCSE grading system have still to land with a lot of parents/carers so getting across the workings of an entirely new qualification is going to be a challenge.

parents t levels

Added to the fact that, despite CEC optimism over benchmarks not withstanding, many secondary school pupils are not hearing directly from FE providers.

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Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786040/survey_of_pupils_and_their_parents_or_carers-wave_5.pdf

So getting advice from the source might not be the norm and the central marketing which has already launched will have to work hard but the increased awareness of apprenticeships shows this can have an impact.

What should the message be?

Mainly that T Levels are going to be a demanding route of study that will be employment specific. They are a combination of learning

T Level courses will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include
    • core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
    • specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
  • an industry placement with an employer
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them

and each section is significant.

The baseline for the total programme hours matches the total learning hours for Level 3 BTEC Extended Diplomas

We expect the total time for a T Level to be around 1,800 hours over the 2 years, including the industry placement. This is a significant increase on most current technical education courses.

while the Industry Placement aspect takes up a great allowance of those hours meaning 16 year old starters will have to be work ready to impress employers enough to sign up to a significant programme of work experience.

Every T Level will include an industry placement with an employer focused on developing the practical and technical skills required for the occupation. These will last a minimum of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) but can last longer.

The academic learning required will also be of a high standard as evidenced by UCAS’ decision to award Tariff points equivalent to 3 A Levels.

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The content to be covered by each T Level is slowly being confirmed by the Institute of Apprenticeships as consultations complete.

A quick scan through any of those “Finalised Outine Content” will show readers that a lot of “stuff” has to be covered in both the Core knowledge and Technical Occupational Specialism components of the qualification and that the Specialism is a vital component. For some young people, the specificity of the route may be a turn off.

All of this though is meant to, according to the T Level Action plan not only prepare students for the workplace in their specialism but also provide a base of skills that will allows for progression onto Higher Education routes, thus the importance of the UCAS tariff inclusion despite reluctance to accept them from the Russell Group.

Entry requirements

In the past month the TES seemed baffled by the fact that these demanding Level 3 qualifications were being assigned entry requirements similar to other demanding Level 3 courses by the first cohort of providers recruiting students in 2020.

There is a point to their story that if, system-wide, choices for those school leavers who do not achieve GCSE qualifications that allow them to access A or T Levels narrow then those young people could be left with fewer options. Moving on from the obvious (“Huh, who knew, better GCSE grades give an individual more choice”) any rebuttal should be based on that it is not beholden on FE providers to lower entry requirements to qualifications that demand potential students to have the capacity to succeed at Level 3 (and wouldn’t be able to fit in GCSE retakes anyway). The rightly much maligned “parity of esteem” phrase beloved by politicians usually desperate for something to say about FE has an actual value here; you can’t possibly expect FE routes to achieve “esteem” by only offering routes for young people with low GCSE achievement. The other mitigating factor are the plans for a T-Level transition year for those

who are not ready to start a T level aged 16, but could be expected to complete one by 19.

It is always a challenge to elicit interest in young people about routes they know very little about and this challenge has been reflected in the small recruitment targets for the first wave of T Level providers. Perversely what might actually help recruitment though is the lack of knowledge of Applied General FE qualifications among stakeholders who say that they are trusted qualifications that offer good value and prepare young people for the world of work but then also claim that nobody really understands what their results mean.

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If parents and potential students are already inspired by careers in any of the areas offered at a College local to them as a T Level, then that will probably be enough to tempt an application. Where CEIAG practitioners can offer support though is on the challenge to the young person and the work readiness needed to make those transitions a success.The reality of this and the entry requirements may alter the cohort of students they routinely talk to about FE altogether.

CEIAG in Post 16 providers – a survey

Over the years of writing this blog the annual omnibus survey from the DfE has always offered a useful insight into the reality of the scale of CEIAG provision across the country. Up until now I did not realise that they also undertake a Post 16 version of the survey, the most recent release of which includes plenty of interesting information about the scale and types of provision on offer by providers.

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The first point to make about the results is that respondents do appear to come from the wide variety of providers across the FE landscape (Table A1: 421 responses) but overall it’s heartening to see just how widespread the range of CEIAG work is across the Post 16 stage.

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The rise in employer encounters since 2017 was noted by the CEC looking for signs of impact of their work.

The figures that provide the most surprise to me though come from the split into type of provision by type of institution

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My assumption would be that FE Colleges would be offering more employer encounters for students than Sixth Forms attached to schools. Employer engagement is a central tenet of the mission of FE providers and the qualifications they offer. In my experience at least, the range and scale of employer engagement is much more frequent and in-depth then what you would expect in a school with a small sixth form but that seems to not to be the case here. The other interesting data point is the scale of difference between the students at different providers participating in University visits but this comes with a word of warning. There is some confusion across the document in the way this question is worded; fig 10.1 phrases it “All students considering university have had at least two visits to universities” while 10.2 uses “University applicants have had at least two visits to universities.” These differences appear subtle but for an FE College who will have a significant proportion of their student population studying qualifications at Level 2 and below, the wording of this question could elicit significantly different results from respondents.

Elsewhere in the survey, it is heartening to see CEIAG provisions taking center stage in respondents thinking when detailing their “activities to encourage students to have high aspirations or to help them achieve their potential.”

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Careers Teams in Sixth Forms, FE Colleges, UTCs & Studio Schools would be involved in the organisation or delivery of all of those types of provision in some way. Leaving aside the continual misappropriation of disadvantaged young people having “low aspirations,” when research shows that they have high aspirations but lack the tools and social and cultural capital to enact those aspirations (pdf), this data shows Post 16 Careers Leaders how to best frame their offer to explain value to Senior Leaders. The potential areas to offer provision in that would gain benefit can be found in the responses to the next question, “Barriers faced be post-16 institutions in raising aspiration within the student population.”

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Many of which are structural barriers (e.g. cost of continuing education, socio-economic) but also barriers which Careers Teams can help tackle with clear messaging. For example, with the use of Martin Lewis’ campaign materials to tackle some of the myths around Higher Education tuition fees to assuage student fears over the impact of these costs and offering to play a central role in parental engagement events and activities.

Wide scale tracking of CEIAG provision is valuable to note the impacts that policy or changes in accountability focus can ripple through the system. These annual surveys from the DfE are an important data point to achieve this. Another survey that may interest you or benefit from your involvement is the CEC survey of Careers Leaders in schools which will hopefully report interesting data on the workforce change that the Careers Strategy and DfE Careers Guidance for schools has influenced so get your response sent if this is applicable to you. A similar survey for FE Careers Leaders is planned for later this year.

 

What would a new careers law solve?

A central voice in the “school careers is rubbish” choir has always been the FE and training provider sector. Seemingly not a week goes by without their spokespeople regaling tales of struggle to tunnel their way under the gun turrets on the school gates, dodging the sharp incisors of the hounds and avoiding the searchlights just to get their prospectus into the grateful hands of vocationally impoverished Year 11s. Okay, so that is a bit OTT but we’ve all heard the stories of FE Colleges requests to speak to students being ignored, careers advisers having to hide prospectuses out of the watchful eye of Sixth Form staff and open evening posters being hidden under school cake sale flyers on noticeboards. All, the FE sector claim, with the overarching aim of keeping more students in school sixth forms to protect funding streams rather than then letting students choose what is best for them and, by extension, the wider economy.

With our halos shining brightly (ahem), Careers practitioners in schools have been at the sharp end of these local politics and funding bottlenecks.

With this in mind, a new careers law has been mooted that will “ensure” that apprenticeships and vocational routes are given equal and prominent airtime as academic routes to students. The world of FE welcomed the move, Martin Doel said,

We have long been calling for an improvement to the system and welcome the changes outlined. Colleges recognise the critical nature of good careers education and will be very keen to continue to work together with their local schools. This announcement will make that a reality.

while Stephen Exley, the editor of TES Further Ed, was positively ecstatic,

It’s about time to crack open the champagne. At long last, the government is prepared to get tough on the “outdated snobbery” towards further education.

Stewart Segal of the Association of Learning and Employment providers used the historically low percentage of 16-18 year olds starting an apprenticeship as a reason to celebrate the mooted new legislation

Statutory guidance for schools followed but the fact remains that only around 6 per cent of school leavers start an apprenticeship and this proportion hasn’t changed for years. We, therefore, called for that statutory guidance to be strengthened.

only for Nick Boles to rain on that particular parade at his appearance at the sub committee hearing into CEIAG

What mystifies me about the reaction to this announcement is that this legislation already exists, and has done for a number of years, as a statutory duty on schools, that is, policies schools are already required to hold by law.

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This possibly reflects on a failure of all involved in the Careers Duty, a failure of Government strategy, of school implementation and Ofsted monitoring, that vocational providers still feel no discernible impact from it.

What difference would any new legislation take? That this “information” must be delivered to students by outside sources (e.g. FE Colleges)? As this article suggests, the age old standard of a careers fair could be the outcome most schools turn to to meet that requirement. Hardly revolutionary and without the “support and funding” that Russell Hobby calls for in that piece, unlikely to deliver the outcomes desired by the FE community.

 

Revised Careers Guidance for FE and 6th Form Colleges

In the interests of completeness, here is the revised Guidance document “Careers guidance and inspiration – Guidance for general further education colleges and sixth form colleges” that was released yesterday.

For those familiar with the corresponding schools careers guidance the document is much of a muchness with the requirements of the duty for independent guidance on all routes to be provided for students in a number of suitable methods. Case studies highlight different ways of achieving this (including utilising organisations such as Career Academies) and Destination Measures are held up as the  method of accountability. The document then runs through a number of online resources that can help achieve Sixth Forms and Colleges achieve these aims.

 

The hidden pill for schools to swallow in the CEIAG guidance

The updated Careers Guidance has been out for a few weeks now which is long enough for it to be read, digested and (in some cases) spat back out by those with an interest in these things. The initial media coverage concentrated on the clear desire in the document(s) for schools to be much more proactive in their approaches and collaborations with the business community to provide the much vaunted and discussed “inspiration” that will illuminate the clear routes ahead of young people on their paths to success. Or something.

What gained less attention was the inclusion of instructions for schools which, arguably, could require a greater amount of change from them.

The original guidance, published in March 2013, contained the Duty including the highlighted sentence below:

while the expanded and updated Guidance in 2014 contains this whole, much more detailed, section:

The difference between the two excerpts could not be clearer in the detail covered or the expectation placed on schools. Or to be more precise, the expectation placed on Careers leads in schools. We now can’t hide away from the fact that we are the forefront of the growth of the marketplace for students at 14 and our requirements to spread IAG may cause disquiet and unease among colleagues and ripples through our local educational landscape. I would imagine, in most schools,  it’s something that needs airing with all of our Senior Leadership teams explicitly and soon.

The issues Studio schools and UTCs have previously encountered with enrolling students have already been noticed by both the national press and the Ministerial team writing the checks so in response, some of these individual schools have been pushing their marketing boat out with focused, local campaigns whilst being supported by a national presence with substantial PR nous and which herald the positive employability skills gained by their alumni. In some areas, this marketing push hasn’t gone smoothly and, I must admit, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage of localised political shenanigans resulting from these transitions (if I’ve missed any, please let me know in the comments). If I was the Head of a newly or soon to be opened Studio School or UTC I would be sending that second image above to the Heads of all my local secondary schools with an offer to come in and run an assembly. Of course, not all of those offers would result in collaborative work but schools who refuse or ignore those requests are on much more shaky ground should Ofsted arrive and ask the questions they should be asking.

There will be Careers Leads in schools who may be reading this and feel content in the knowledge that a UTC or Studio School is not due to open near their patch. They would be wallowing in the relief that I feel when speaking to Colleagues who work in schools with Sixth Form provisions about the long running and well-known battles had about introducing other routes to students at the 16 transition point. Well, I’d hesitate to feel totally at ease yet because, included in that second image, is the line “opportunities for 14-year-old enrollment at local Colleges” and with the funding squeeze being felt by Post 16 providers it’s not difficult to imagine many more of them looking into establishing provision at 14 to both shore up funding and subsequent enrolment at Level 3. This is an issue coming all our ways.

Some quick thoughts on the new #GCSE reform and post 16 progression

The latest in a tumult of change sweeping through all stages of England’s education system was announced this morning with the Ofqual consultation on which grades in the new GCSEs (1-9, with 9 being the best) will be equal to what grades under the old GCSEs (with the all important for the student C gateway).

A few possible implications regarding how these changes will affect the progression of young people onto the next stages of their learning and how CEIAG staff will have to adapt spring to mind.

So, bearing in mind that these will first be awarded to students in the summer of 2017 in English, English Literature and Maths GCSE only and that the content of the curriculum studied by these students for the 2 year course will have been more challenging than the predecessor and it will have been assessed purely on terminal exams rather than incorporating speaking and listening elements…

1. The proposal that a grade 4 will be equivalent to a grade C from the legacy qualification and a grade 7 will be equivalent to an A – will mean very different things depending on which side of the ‘C’ boundary a child falls. The increased number of grades (6 rather than 4) above the boundary will spread students achieving a “pass” out across these grades and give Sixth Forms and HE more scope to distinguish between higher achieving candidates for both A Level and Russell Group type degrees and between A Level courses even at the same institution, you may see a greater variance in entry requirements (History A Level courses asking for a “7 or above in GCSE History” for example rather a standard 5 or 6 across the other subjects).

For those below the  boundary it will be a different story. More children, to begin with, will be clumped across fewer grades below this raised standard and will therefore have the choice of Post 16 routes restricted. The Dfe believe that improving standards and changes to Key Stage 2 curriculum and tests will raise standards of attainment in the longer term but most people’s first conclusion will be that will see a larger proportion of students each year not have the choice of the full range of pathways open to them. The 4 A Level and higher vocational qualification route will not be possible for as many students as it is now and, because of the rules for English & Maths retakes, more students will see the options that are open to them become more prescribed. I fear there are implications for student motivation here in Key Stage 4 which CEIAG professionals will be at the forefront of addressing.

2. 2017 and 2016 is going to be a dogs dinner for CEIAG workers in Secondary schools – As it will only be new GCSEs in English Language, English Literature and Maths awarded this year, students will open their envelopes on results day to find a grade 1-9 in these qualifications but still be awarded A-G in any other GCSEs they will have taken such as History, Drama, Music etc. Many students will have also studied a L2 BTEC course so receive a Distinction, Merit, Pass or Fail in those subjects.

This will have repercussions as those students go on through the education system and their working lives but also in the long tail of guidance and build up to transition that pre-empt those results. How will Sixth Forms, FE Colleges and Apprenticeships Employers adjust their requirements to reflect this mix of new and old? Will they be able to communicate their requirements to feeder schools early enough so proper IAG can take place? How will these changes interact and impact with the changes to the A Level curriculum and the removal of the AS mid-point? Will Apprenticeship employers react in time to adjust their online application sites or be fully aware of the equivalent grades?

Of course this is still at the consultation stage and the Ofqual documents states that, ultimately, the decision on where the grading falls will be based on the feedback from employers and FE and HE. Meanwhile, for the students and those trying to advise them, there are lots of answers still to come.