16 to 19 Funding: core aims in study programmes

The latest information on core aims to assist funded institutions in planning study programmes across individual funding years.

16 to 19 Funding: core aims in study programmes

This note gives the latest information on core aims to help funded institutions in recording study programmes. It expands on the contractual requirements for core aims that are included in the Funding rates and formula and the Funding regulations guidance.

Study programmes

All 16 to 19 year old students are funded for their individual study programme.

The study programme must be tailored to each individual student, have clear study and/or employment goals reflecting the student’s prior attainment, aspirations and abilities. It must include:

  • substantial qualifications
  • maths and English for students who have not achieved grade A*-C GCSE in these subjects by age 16
  • high-quality work experience
  • added value non-qualification activity

The purpose of core aims

The core aim has 2 functions:

  1. For the study programme: the core aim focusses on the student’s aspirations and their goals for the future. It defines the main purpose of their study programme. It reflects the student’s career and progression aspirations, their abilities and their aptitude. It should be the key element of the study programme will make it possible for the student to progress into employment, an apprenticeship, or further education.

  2. For funding purposes: the core aim has a significant impact on funding allocations for institutions as set out below. The core aim is used to calculate retention and to determine the programme cost weighting applied to the study programme.

Identifying the core aim

The core aim must be agreed between the student and the institution, usually at the start of the study programme.

Identifying the core aim is an important consideration and it should not simply be the first aim recorded. Rather, the core aim should reflect the principal, core activity in a study programme. It is the most important element which will usually be the one the student spends the most time on.

However for some students it might be appropriate to choose a smaller qualification or activity as the core aim. It is up to institutions to select the core aim that best reflects the student’s aspirations and is key to their progression.

Recording school aims in the school census

For purely academic study programmes the individual qualifications are treated as having equal value to the student and so institutions returning the school census should not identify a core aim for academic programmes.

However, all vocational and mixed academic/vocational programmes with a vocational core must identify a core aim. Institutions that do not are likely to see a negative impact on retention and programme cost weighting factors and, therefore, funding.

We have produced an interactive post-16 school census tool to help schools and academies understand how census data is used to calculate post-16 funding. The tool will also help institutions understand common errors and how they affect the funding we calculate. We strongly encourage you to use the tool and work through the examples to support you to complete the census accurately.

Recording core aims in the ILR

Institutions must record a core aim for every 16 to 19 funded student (excluding apprenticeships) in the ILR whether they are academic or vocational.

In the majority of cases, the core aim must be identified and recorded within the funding qualifying period.

The qualifying period varies by the length of study programme as follows

Study programme planned hours and planned length in-year   Qualifying period
450 hours or more   6 weeks (42 days)
Fewer than 450 hours > = 24 weeks 6 weeks (42 days)
Fewer than 450 hours 2 to 24 weeks 2 weeks (14 days)

In some limited circumstances, it may not be in the student’s best interests to finalise a core aim within the qualifying period. If so, the institution must have a clear justification for this, along with a record of why the core aim was not finalised within the qualifying period. The core aim should be finalised and recorded as soon as a suitable one is identified and at most within 12 weeks of the student starting the study programme. In these circumstances institutions should record an initial core aim, which can be replaced with the more appropriate one when it is established. This should happen only in exceptional circumstances.

Where a student is concentrating on personal and social development or employability in the early stages of their study programme, a generic class code may be recorded as the core aim until a more substantial aim can be agreed. This should only apply to individual students and not to groups of students.

Why core aims are important for funding

Accurately identifying and recording core aims is crucial in ensuring accurate funding allocations. Core aim recording determines if a student is following an academic or vocational study programme, which in turn is used to calculate:

  1. Whether or not a student is retained on the programme. Future funding allocations are reduced if students are not retained for the planned duration of their study programme. Recording the core aim is a key aspect of determining retention.

  2. The programme cost weighting. This weighting applies to some vocational study programmes to cover the higher cost of delivering them, such as some engineering courses and land-based training. Accurately recording the core aim enables the weighting to be applied correctly and impacts directly on funding allocations.

Academic and vocational qualification types and core aims

Study programmes can be either academic, vocational or mixed academic and vocational. Academic study programmes do not attract a programme cost weighting.

Academic study programmes

Where a student is studying purely academic subjects they have an academic core aim in the ILR and no core aim in the school census.

Vocational study programmes

Where the student is studying a vocational qualification, or is mainly on work experience plus a qualification such as English, or is on a Traineeship, they should have a vocational core aim.

Mixed academic and vocational study programmes

Where the student is studying both academic and vocational qualifications, their core aim is determined by the core purpose of the study programme, and this will normally reflect the majority of the planned hours.

An example of a mixed programme would be a student at a studio school or UTC, where the focus is on a substantial vocational qualification in Engineering who is also studying an academic maths qualification alongside the vocational qualification. In this case, the engineering qualification is the core aim as it reflects the aspirations of the student, that is, developing a career in engineering.

If a student’s core aim is not identified and recorded, their study programme will be classed as academic and funded as an academic programme.

Academic study programmes

A study programme is academic if there is no core aim (in the school census) or the core aim is one of the qualification types below (in the ILR).

Level Qualification types
3 AS, A2, A with AS levels; (General Studies and Critical Thinking are excluded); IB Diploma; IB Certificates; Cambridge Pre-U Diploma, Access to HE Diploma
2 GCSEs – including vocational; GCSE short courses; Free standing maths qualifications (FSMQs)

Subjects that cannot be core aims

Academic study programmes must have a substantial academic qualification. We do not consider A level General Studies or A level Critical Thinking to be substantial and so these cannot be core aims.

Traineeships and core aims

The core aim for a traineeship must be the work experience placement. Provided the placement was started, the trainee can progress to an apprenticeship without fulfilling the planned hours for this aim. In this case the traineeship should be recorded on the ILR as achieved and the relevant destination details completed. Other aims such as maths and English can remain open and be completed after the traineeship has been completed. If a learner does not complete the maths and English elements of the traineeship within 6 months then these will continue to be funded until they are completed. Detail on how this is handled on the ILR can be found on GOV.UK.

Further information on traineeships funding and traineeships programmes are available on GOV.UK.

Students with more than one core aim in a year

In the majority of cases, we expect that a student will have only one core aim for their study programme. However, there are limited circumstances where it is in the best interests of the student to have more than one core aim within the funding year (1 August to 31 July). Multiple core aims can be recorded for a student in one funding year, however they cannot be concurrent.

We will monitor changes to core aims and where this happens more than might be expected, we will query this with institutions. More information is available on the review of core aims in 2014 to 2015. The next review for 2015 to 2016 will be in autumn.

Changes are acceptable in the following circumstances:

  • when a student changes their study programme and so withdraws from their core aim, and then starts a new study programme in its place. A replacement core aim must only be recorded when the core aim is a substantial and core component of the new study programme. If an alternative aim that meets these criteria cannot be identified, the withdrawn aim must remain as the core aim

  • when a student has more than one study programme in a year, for example, a student progressing from a 6 month Traineeship to another study programme. The second study programme must have a new core aim

  • when a student returns to learning after completing a study programme, that is after completing all the activities on their original learning agreement or plan, and starts a second study programme. The second study programme must have a new core aim based on the principles set out above, that is, that meets the student’s aspirations, abilities and aptitude

Retention and core aims

A student on a vocational study programme who does not complete their core aim is not retained. This can result in funding in future years being reduced by 50%. It is important that the core aim is correctly recorded so the retention rate can be accurately calculated.

For academic programmes: a student must stay on or complete at least one of the academic aims in their programme in the funding year to count as retained.

Retention for traineeships is slightly different and further details are available on GOV.UK.

Defining achievement where the core aim is work experience

There is no precise definition for achieving work experience, unlike with qualifications that are examined or assessed through a portfolio. It is for institutions to determine whether or not the work experience aim has been achieved. The most important thing is whether the objectives of the work experience placement have been met.

If the student attends for fewer than their planned hours of work experience, or leaves early, as long as they move into a positive destination which is defined as sustainable paid employment, further/higher education or an apprenticeship they have achieved the work experience core aim.

For information on recording work experience in the ILR please refer to the ILR provider support manual.

Queries on core aims

ESFA enquiries

For all enquiries for the Education and Skills Funding Agency

Additional resources

ESFA funding guidance documents

The documents listed below outline the main features of the ESFA 16 to 19 funding arrangements and are an integral part of the ESFA’s funding agreements for young people aged 16 to 19 and those aged 19 to 24 funded by the ESFA. All these documents should be read in this context, unless specifically stated otherwise. The definitive guidance for each year is published on these pages with the most recent year at the top of the webpage.

Funding 16 to 19 detailed guidance overview page

Further information on 16 to 19 funding guidance.

Funding regulations

Further information on post 16 funding regulations.

Funding rates and formula

Further information on funding rates and formula.

Funding guidance presentations

These presentations are for institutions to use internally to those who are required to understand the funding procedures and guidance. The following topics are covered


This is the online network for people working with funding and learner data in the Further Education and Skills sector. The online forum is where you can talk to colleagues about funding and data issues, and help each other to resolve queries.

AoC Study Programme Central

The AoC website has a range of useful information on study programmes.

Published 22 June 2015
Last updated 17 November 2017 + show all updates
  1. General update to page, links updated
  2. Updated October 2016 with additional text to clarify recording core aims and the link between core aims and institutions’ funding allocation. This is to assist institutions provide accurate data.
  3. Updated August 2015
  4. First published.