Issue 129 - 2023 Autumn term
Dr Anne Murdoch asks why is the government so inflexible about qualifications achieved abroad when the country needs skilled people?

Qualifications taken abroad

Dr Anne Murdoch
ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership
Supporting members who are experiencing issues relating to their personal terms and conditions of service is at the core of what ASCL does. A member’s case has highlighted the entrenched inequality of access to qualifications by a highly experienced leader with prior qualifications, which feels at best unjust and at worst prejudice. The case also seems at odds with the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s (ESFA’s) push for simplification, evidenced in the recently released version of the Academy Trust Handbook. It is an unnecessary barrier for people who have gained qualifications abroad that are not accepted, adding fuel to the current recruitment and retention crisis in education. We believe that this member’s experience is not an isolated case.
 

Unequal access

Last academic year, we came across a problem faced by one of our members who found that their higher-level qualifications taken abroad were not recognised for the purposes of funding further training in this country. This was frustrating for them and, in our opinion, quite unnecessary. Further work led us to believe this problem was experienced by others who had taken English and maths qualifications abroad and who work in a wide range of roles.

The system of establishing the eligibility of qualifications taken abroad as appropriate for accessing government-funded training is frustratingly limited and tremendously inflexible. Endless resource can be expended in checking whether qualifications taken abroad by British passports holders are sufficiently comparable with UK qualifications, such as GCSEs in English and maths. This can lead to delay in people starting or completing training for work.

The government uses a system of checking qualifications called the ENIC database – the UK National Information Centre for the recognition and evaluation of international qualifications and skills. This is relatively simple to use but is restrictive in its outputs, and does not accept all relevant qualifications taken abroad, even if they are above GCSE level, which is the comparable UK qualification for entry to higher level apprenticeships, for example. We appreciate that the ESFA and DfE must follow their own policies and procedures, but when those policies and procedures are not inclusive, we believe a line has been crossed. Even the government’s own website includes comments that suggest that many others have suffered the same frustrations.

The recent case supported by ASCL and the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) highlighted the problem when higher level (degree) qualifications achieved abroad, as well as in this country, were not recognised as prior qualifications exempting a member from English and maths on an apprenticeship programme. Even though achieved at a much higher level, they were not on the government’s list of qualifications – the ENIC database – permitted as GCSE level equivalents. Hence, although degree-level qualified in these subjects, the member was asked to repeat these qualifications at Level 2. This seems absurd, especially as the member had achieved qualifications in the UK well beyond that recognised as a requirement for accessing an apprenticeship.
 

Let common sense prevail

ASCL and ISBL took up the issue with the government although the matter has not yet been resolved, despite an appeal and ASCL and ISBL contacting the funding body to raise the query. However, we have been told by the ESFA that the system is under review. We can only hope that common sense will prevail, and the system will be changed so that non-UK qualifications are recognised in a more inclusive way.

ASCL is calling for greater flexibility in the recognition of qualifications taken outside of the UK by our members, especially as those members have a permit to work in this country and are, in all other respects, eligible for government-funded training such as apprenticeships. The government has said it wants to increase the number of apprenticeships, so this would be an easy win when many members want to undertake the Senior Leadership apprenticeship, for example. Such training is imperative at a time when the country, and education especially, needs people with higher level skills in maths and English to work in our schools and colleges.

Please contact us via the Tell Us inbox, with the subject ‘Leadership qualifications’, if you have experienced a similar problem and let us know if there has been any reasonable conclusion.

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