Information on the process for seeking public funding for qualifications to be delivered to young people in England.
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for further education stakeholders, in particular awarding organisations regulated by Ofqual and institutions, who are concerned with:
- the delivery of qualifications to young people in England
- the eligibility of qualifications for public funding for young people in England
This guide describes the process involved to seek public funding in England for the delivery of a qualification to students up to the age of 19 years old. This includes Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funded 19+ continuing students in sixth-form colleges and academies and 19 to 24 year olds with an education, health care plan (EHCP).
This guide also applies to amendments to qualifications that are currently eligible for public funding in England for young people.
This guide does not provide any information about qualifications that are only eligible for:
- delivery to adult students
- public funding outside of England
Further information on public funding for adult students is available from the ESFA.
What does the process involve?
The process has 5 main steps which a qualification must complete before it is eligible for public funding for young people in England. This can take up to 7 weeks from start to end and some steps can run at the same time.
Step 1 – Ofqual regulate qualifications
Time taken: up to 5 weeks.
Overall process time: up to 5 weeks.
Regulated awarding organisations use Ofqual’s Portal system to submit or amend qualification data to Ofqual. When Ofqual regulate a qualification they give it a qualification number. On the last Tuesday of each month, the Department for Education (DfE) takes a copy of Ofqual’s Portal data. As a cut of the portal data is taken once a month, the date at which a qualification is submitted or amended in the portal will affect the time taken for a qualification to complete the first step of the process.
The DfE use the portal data for the monthly section 96 approval process.
Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications (the Register) is an online publication of qualification data. Further education stakeholders can use the Register to check submitted or amended qualification data.
Further education stakeholders should contact Ofqual direct at Customer.Services@ofqual.gov.uk with any queries about:
- qualifications submitted to Ofqual
- qualification information displayed in Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications
Step 2 – ESFA publish qualification data in Learning Aim Reference Service (LARS)
Time taken: completed on a regular basis and has no impact time on the overall process.
We receive a weekly update of Ofqual qualification data and upload this data without any funding validity information into LARS.
If further education stakeholders have any queries regarding the Ofqual regulated qualification data in LARS then these should be emailed to email@example.com.
Step 3 – DfE determine section 96 approval
Time taken: 10 working days from the point at which DfE receives Ofqual qualification data.
Overall process time: up to 7 weeks.
On the last Tuesday of each month, the DfE takes a copy of Ofqual’s Portal qualification data. This covers both newly regulated and amended qualifications. It does not include qualifications regulated by Ofqual on the last Tuesday of each month; these are included in the following month’s data.
The DfE use the section 96 core approval principles to assess the suitability of each qualification to be delivered to students in the following age categories;
- 16 to 18
Once the section 96 approval process is completed, the section 96 website is updated with new approved qualifications and amendments to existing section 96 qualification data. The section 96 website also displays the approved section 96 age categories for a qualification.
The DfE complete this part of the process within 10 working days of receiving the Ofqual qualification data. It can therefore take up to 7 weeks from the submission of a qualification for Ofqual regulation to the publishing of section 96 approval data on the section 96 website.
Further education stakeholders should direct specific queries about section 96 approval to the DfE. The DfE contact email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 4 – The ESFA set 16 to 19 funding validity
Time taken: 10 working days from the point at which the DfE receives Ofqual qualification data.
Overall process time: 7 weeks.
Once the DfE has completed the section 96 approval process, we then set funding validity for qualifications eligible for ESFA funding. This process runs in parallel with the section 96 approval process and is completed within the same 10 working days from DfE receiving the Ofqual qualification data.
The ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity criteria for qualifications is available within the ESFA funding regulation guidance for young people.
Step 5 – Publishing ESFA validity on LARS
Time taken: dependent on the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) returns.
Once we have completed the 16 to 19 funding validity process, the updated ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity data is published on LARS. LARS is available online and further education stakeholders can use LARS to check the ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity for a qualification.
The funding validity data in LARS is updated to coincide with the ILR data returns made by funded institutions, so that the latest funding validity is available for qualifications being returned in the ILR.
Queries relating to qualifications that are regulated by Ofqual and approved on section 96, but not showing on LARS with ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity should be directed to email@example.com.
Who are the organisations involved with the process and what are their main responsibilities?
The process a qualification has to complete before it can become eligible for public funding for young people in England contains several steps.
The organisations responsible for the different steps are:
- the DfE
- the ESFA (Intervention and Young People’s Funding Group)
Ofqual maintain standards and confidence in qualifications. They look after GCSEs and A levels in England, as well as a wide range of vocational qualifications both in England. They also regulate the National Curriculum Assessments in England.
Ofqual achieve this by regulating and monitoring recognised organisations that deliver qualifications and assessments.
Regulated awarding organisations use the portal to submit or amend qualification data to Ofqual. Ofqual publish regulated qualification details online in the Register of Regulated Qualifications.
Section 96 - The DfE
Section 96 is a section of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. It gives the Secretary of State the power to approve qualifications for delivery to young people aged less than 19 years old.
Public funding is considered for qualifications, which have been section 96 approved. For some funded institutions, such as maintained schools and academies, section 96 approval is required for the delivery of qualifications to young people.
Section 96 approval will only be considered for qualifications that are regulated by Ofqual and have regulated qualification data available in Ofqual’s Portal system.
Qualifications are considered for section 96 approval against a set of core approval principles. Where a qualification fails to meet one or more of the principles it will not gain section 96 approval. Awarding organisations are notified, in writing, of the reasons for failure to gain approval.
Section 96 approval is not an indication of whether or not a qualification will be included in the Key Stage 4 performance tables. While schools are free to offer any qualification approved under section 96 for the relevant age group, Key Stage 4 performance tables will be restricted to qualifications that for the majority of young people:
- are rigorous
- are high quality
- enable progression to a wide range of employment and further study opportunities
Further information about the process for considering qualifications for inclusion in performance tables can be found on GOV.UK. Any queries relating to Key Stage 4 performance tables should be sent to the DfE via an online form.
16 to 19 funding validity for qualifications
We manage funding to support all state-provided education for young people.
Guidance on what provision is eligible for inclusion within an ESFA funded 16 to 19 study programme can be found within the ESFA funding regulation guidance for young people.
For a qualification to be eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity it must:
- lead to an external certificate offered by an Ofqual regulated awarding organisation
- have section 96 approval
The ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity indicates the period for which a qualification is eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding. ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity for a qualification is published on LARS.
What key qualification data is required for the process?
Key data from Ofqual’s Portal
To avoid asking awarding organisations for the same data twice, the data entered into Ofqual’s Portal) is shared with other systems used by the government and its funding agencies.
We use the portal data to identify qualifications, which are seeking section 96 approval, or ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity. The portal data is also the only source of data used to identify changes to current qualifications that are already section 96 approved or that have ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity.
Regulated awarding organisations should ensure that the following key fields are completed in the portal:
- offered in England
- funding in England
- operational end date (or in the absence of an operational end date, the review date
This information informs us:
- that a qualification is intending to be delivered in England
- that a qualification is seeking section 96 approval and ESFA 16 to 19 public funding
- the operational duration of the qualification
Awarding organisations should also make sure that the age category and links to specification fields are correctly completed, so that section 96 approval and funding validity are considered for the appropriate ages.
The importance of qualification dates
The date information recorded in the portal reflects a qualification’s current status. It is also used to determine the section 96 approval dates and the ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity for a qualification.
When a qualification reaches its operational end date, it is still approved by the Secretary of State, but it is removed from the section 96 approved list. The qualification is then listed on the section 96 archive list until a future operational end date or review date is in place.
Awarding organisations are responsible for maintaining date information for a qualification. Any changes to the status of a qualification should be promptly resubmitted to Ofqual through the portal. This will ensure that timely amendments are made to the Section 96 approval and ESFA 16 to 19 funding validity dates.
Operational end dates and review dates
A qualification’s operational end date as recorded in the portal informs:
In the absence of an operational end date, the portal review date will populate the section 96 archive date and the corresponding 16 to 19 ‘last date for new starts’ field.
When a qualification reaches its section 96 archive date, although the qualification remains approved by the Secretary of State it is automatically removed from the Section 96 approved list and added to the Section 96 archive list until a new portal operational end date or review date is in place.
The last date for new starts field in LARS indicates the last date at which a student can be recorded as starting a qualification and be eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding.
Certification end dates
A qualification’s certification end date in the portal informs:
- the certification end date field on the section 96 website
- the 16 to 19 end date field populated by us in LARS
The ESFA 16 to 19 end date indicates the last date that a qualification is eligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding.
A student registered for a qualification by the section 96 archive date may complete their qualification up to the certification end date, even if that qualification is on the section 96 archive list.
Likewise, a student registered for a qualification by the ESFA 16 to 19 last date for new starts may complete their qualification and be eligible for funding up to the ESFA 16 to 19 end date.
Table 1: The relationship between the date fields in the portal, section 96 and LARS
|The portal date data||Section 96||LARS for 16 to 19 funding validity|
|Operational end date||→||Archive date||→||16 to 19 last date for new starts|
|Review date (in the absence of an operational end date)||→||Archive date||→||16 to 19 last date for new starts|
|Certification end date||→||Certification end date||→||16 to 19 end date|
What happens when the DfE or ESFA withdraw a qualification due to a change in policy?
If the section 96 approval for a qualification is withdrawn, then the section 96 archive date will be amended to reflect the withdrawal date. Likewise, if an ESFA 16 to 19 funded qualification becomes ineligible for ESFA 16 to 19 funding, the 16 to 19 last date for new starts will be amended.
In the few instances where this happens, the date fields in the portal, section 96 and LARS may not be consistent with each other.