• Reflections during LGBTQ+ Month

    As a gay man in his mid-40s, I can just about remember my primary years.

    While others might recall the school dinners or tiny chairs, it’s the select few words of a teacher that still stick with me to this day. 

    On the whole, looking back, there was a lot I didn’t understand about myself at school - about why I was ‘different’.

  • Future of qualifications and assessment: have your say

    Debate in the national media about the future of exams has intensified in recent weeks, prompted by the impact of lockdown on exams and on the well-being of our young people.

    We’ve seen a growing number of pithy and thought-provoking ideas about what should be done, but one thing is striking – there is a wide array of views, but much less system wide thinking in a system where one change inevitably leads to another. And we have heard from experts and opinion-leaders, but much less from parents, employers, teachers and learners themselves.

    Their views matter because how learning is recognised is a high stakes endeavour that exists to serve the public good. This is why the consultation we are launching today is important. We will be reaching out everyone with a stake in the UK’s education system to get their views.

    COVID-19 has been a catalyst in the debate, but growing learner and parental demand for an education that delivers lifelong benefits and an accelerating shift to a digital economy, are making more people ask, how can our qualifications system encourage and recognise the knowledge and skills that matter most, and how can we define its success in more inclusive terms?

    Our national consultation will focus on three broad areas:

    • Conditions and Environment: exploring and how wider economic, technological, and societal trends are changing what people need to know and be able to do. With AI positioned to take on a more operational role in the workplace of the future, how do we assess both human and technical skills?
    • Purpose and Value: considering the role that education within the 14-19 phase should play in helping develop confident and well-rounded learners and supporting their life aspirations.
    • Trust and Equity: exploring issues around fairness and coherence in the system to maintain public confidence in qualifications and assessment, and to ensure that the system serves diversity, equity and inclusion.

    Clearly, this is an ambitious and challenging project. We recognise that while we work across a broad landscape in education, we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we are thankful for the contributions of our expert panel of esteemed voices to help guide the project, provide independent validation and to test and challenge us (see below).

    The UK's education system is amongst the best in the world.  Our curriculum, qualifications and assessment are widely recognised, valued and adopted by countries around the world.  That is the starting point for this work, and we hope this project will provide a valuable contribution to the debate.

    The next step will see us publish the findings of the consultation in an interim report in late spring, and I’m looking forward to providing a further update then. And in the meantime, do please take the time to participate. We want to hear your views on these important questions.

  • Celebrating National Apprenticeship week

    National Apprenticeship Week is with us once again. This is an annual initiative aiming to shine a light on the amazing work being done by employers and apprentices across the country. As part of these celebrations, we will be putting a spotlight on a number of our own Apprentices from Pearson’s employee programme, sharing their inspiring stories.

  • Why defunding qualifications would be a mistake

    By Cindy Rampersaud, SVP BTEC and Apprenticeships

    For many years and across numerous governments, there has been talk about improving the standing of technical and vocational education. The recent publication of the Skills for Jobs White Paper reiterated this government’s ambition and commitment to do just that. A laudable aim, especially as, against a backdrop of rapid change, lifelong learning will be crucial in supporting both social and economic prosperity. However, in striving for this, ministers cannot lose sight of what is working well already.



  • Unintended Consequences: How Level 3 reform could damage progression to higher education, including for Nursing

    By Ria Bhatti, Head of Stakeholder Engagement 

    Last term saw the exciting milestone of the first cohort of students enrol on the new T Level programmes in Digital and Construction pathways and in Childcare. Last term also marked the launch of the Department for Education’s (DfE) consultation reviewing which Level 3 qualifications (aside from A Levels and T Levels) should be funded in the longer term.

    The proposals – as they currently stand – will redefine the Level 3 qualification landscape, significantly reducing the number of vocational qualifications available from 2023 and 2024. In turn, this will potentially impact on progression to higher education. BTEC qualifications have more than 35 years’ history of supporting students’ progression to higher education, which is why we were pleased to work with National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) on a joint publication, Guiding Principles to Inform the Successful Progression of BTEC Students into Higher Education, published last month. As this publication recognises, universities too have done a lot of work to support the transition of BTEC students to higher education in recent years and we are keen to support this further.

    Despite this work and excellent practice and the recent reform programme which saw the introduction of external assessment and exams into BTEC and other vocational qualifications, further reform is being proposed. On the face of it, it looks positive that there is a recognition of the need for qualifications aside from A Levels and T Levels. Yet it is important we consider the detail of these proposals.

    Example of impact on nursing

    Let’s take a closer look at the potential impact of the consultation proposals for one occupational and degree area. In 2017, just over 21% of entrants to nursing degrees held a BTEC Level 3 National qualification, representing approximately one-in-five of Nursing degree entrants. Given that most Nursing degree holders do go into nursing as a career, this illustrates that BTEC alumni constitute a significant proportion of the nursing workforce.

    Approximately 65% of these BTEC students in 2017 studied health and social care. With 16%, the next popular BTEC subject studied was applied science, which would potentially no longer be an option under these proposals, due to perceived overlap with A Levels. Yet the BTEC covers science topics not covered by the corresponding A Levels in science, featuring more practical skills assessment and a blended assessment model.

    In 2017, most of these BTEC students entering Nursing did so with the BTEC as a stand-alone qualification (equivalent to three A Levels). This qualification would also potentially no longer exist under the current DfE proposals, due to perceived overlap with T Levels, despite a different purpose. This size of BTEC qualification in health and social care, featuring a double-weighted exam in Anatomy and Physiology (set and marked by the exam board), contains more content on human biology than the A Level in Biology. It is a great foundation for those interested in progressing to nursing, while keeping students’ progression options open.

    Fortunately, the DfE proposals would still allow for a small qualification in health and social care to be taken alongside two A Levels. However, some of the other popular models of mixed curricula would potentially no longer exist, such as taking the BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Health and Social Care (a two A Level equivalent) alongside an A Level in Biology, a popular combination for students committed to pursuing Nursing degrees, rather than studying three disparate subjects.

    The cumulative effect of these proposals would therefore reduce the number of existing routes for entering a Nursing degree, at a time when we urgently need to be increasing the size of the nursing workforce.

    Widening participation

    Under these proposals, for the potentially smaller number of students able to progress to Nursing degrees with a mixed curriculum model (for example, one small BTEC alongside two A Levels), there is a risk that this student cohort would be less representative of the wider diverse student population. The DfE’s Impact Assessment highlights the risk that certain student groups may be more adversely impacted by these proposals than others.

    When we compare the average student cohort profile, according to HESA data, of those following an A Level only route, versus those of studying a BTEC-only route for higher education entrants in 2017 (across all subject areas), we can start to see why. A greater proportion of those studying BTEC come from an ethnic minority background (such as Asian, 16.5%; and Black 13.7%) than those who studied purely A Levels (Asian, 12.3%; and Black 4.9%).

    In that same year, approximately 16.7% of those following an A Level route came from the bottom four socio-economic groups (HESA), versus double that (31.6%) of those following a BTEC only route. This is evidence of the BTEC qualification’s inclusivity, which is more representative of the wider student population. If the number of BTEC and other vocational qualifications is reduced, this is likely to adversely impact some student groups more than others.

    If we consider what this means for Nursing, there is a risk that fewer students from ethnic minority backgrounds or certain socio-economic groups will be able to progress into this degree area and therefore profession, leading to a workforce that is less representative of the wider population that it serves.

    Wider workforce and economy

    If we then multiply this impact of reduced accessibility to some of the other degree areas that BTEC students progress onto, including Allied Health, Social Work, Teaching, Engineering and Construction (to name but a few), the potential repercussions would be significant, leading to unintended consequences for the wider UK workforce, society and the economy.

    If we want a diverse and high-performing workforce to meet the changing needs of our economy in these challenging times, we need a rich and diverse Level 3 curriculum that supports that.


    This blog first appeared on

  • Succeeding in an ever-changing jobs market

    By Cindy Rampersaud, SVP BTEC and Apprenticeships


    Following a year of uncertainty for students and their parents across the UK, one thing that is evidently clear is that young people want to be able to keep their educational options open, in a bid to prepare themselves for their future careers.

    This comes as UK Government conducts the second stage of a review of post-16 qualifications. They want to know what qualifications should be available to young learners and adults alongside A Levels and T Levels.

    Review of post-16 qualifications at level 3: second stage

    We support the introduction of T Levels and share the Government's vision for outstanding outcomes for every learner. Young learners and adults have told us it's important for them to have choice in qualifications that suit their career aspirations and best support them and the UK economy - both now and in the future.

    Pearson recently surveyed, young learners, parents and adults as part of our ‘Your Future, Your Choice’ campaign. Findings from the survey of 3000 people found that over 9 in 10 (93%) of young learners, and 84% of adults felt it was important to have a range of learning choices available to them in order to succeed in their careers. In a similar trend, just over 95% of parents agreed, and a further 4 in 5 (81%) stated that their child’s course should provide them with practical skills as well as theory-based learning.

    Read about Your BTEC - your choice

    Against the backdrop of COVID-19 the rate of change in the jobs market has accelerated with huge transformations in technology, industries, careers, learning and lifestyles. The role of education and learning remains crucial as the nation continues to respond to these changes both at an individual, community and wider economic level. The importance placed on preparation for the future and the changing job landscape is further cemented in the fact that only 27% of 16-18-year-olds surveyed and their parents (20%) both agreed that young people should have to choose a specific occupation to study for, as opposed to also being able to choose a route that prepares them for a range of careers.

    When asked to think about their future employment, over 4 in 5 (86%) young learners agreed that they will have to continue learning new skills throughout their life to be prepared for the world of work. Likewise, over two thirds (66.3%) of adults believed that they will have to keep learning throughout their lives to have the relevant skills and knowledge that are valuable to employers. And 83% said access to short, bite-sized learning is important so they can continue to upskill while they work.

    We are seeing a number of industries shift and evolve while newer sectors have sprung up or grown. Further education and career focused education has always responded with a talent and skills strategy to support the evolving needs of employers, and we'll need to be as nimble as ever to serve these emerging industries. This latest research strongly shows the continuing need for broader courses that can take learners on a variety of career pathways, and the need for flexible and accessible bite-size learning for busy adults looking to develop the skills they need to meet changing demand.

  • COVID has turbo-charged change in a world already in flux – how can our education system keep pace?

    By Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK


    What do the Olympics, Glastonbury, GCSEs and A levels all have in common? They were all cancelled owing to the global pandemic. But whilst Olympic hopefuls should get the chance to compete again in 2021, the situation proved more complex for UK students, who wrestled with cancelled exams and the stress of revised outcomes during the summer.

    Many of us have been hit by the pandemic, but few more so than young learners. For many preparing for their next steps in life this has been a terribly difficult time. And the conversation about exams is at the centre of the storm with more people asking much more fundamental questions about A level, GCSE and BTEC.

    The exams we deliver are for the ‘public good’ and it is critical we don’t just ask the questions on other people’s minds, but that we answer them too. Leading a debate about exams is now much needed.

    So, over the coming weeks that’s what we are doing with the Future of Assessments project. We will engage a wide range of stakeholders: further and higher education, employers and - critically - teachers, parents and learners, to listen, and to respond. We want to hear from as many people as possible and will share details on how you can get involved when we launch our consultation early in the new year.

    The UK's education system is widely respected. Our curriculum, qualifications and assessment are recognised, valued and adopted by countries around the world. They don’t just help 'the public', they help people make progress in their lives, through learning. I want this project to play a critical role in shaping the future of UK qualifications, and today we are calling on key selected experts to contribute to it. Indeed, contributions from the entire community will be welcome.

    Learn more about our Future of Qualifications and Assessment research >

  • Helping the UK learn new skills through 2020

    By Gary Gates, SVP Global Business & UK Higher Education


    Back when Pearson launched UK Learns in May the impact of Covid was being painfully felt
    across the UK job market, with swathes of workers furloughed or made unemployed
    in sectors from retail to hospitality.

    Pearson, with help from partners including FutureLearn, OU OpenLearn, the School of Marketing and the National Extension College, set up UK Learns to offer workers a free, wide-ranging selection of online courses.

    The aim being to help them learn new skills and earn qualifications or accreditations that could open up better job and career opportunities.

    Now, as we reach the end of 2020 but unfortunately not the end of job cuts or economic uncertainty, we wanted to share the courses that have proved most popular so far as well as highlighting the breadth of courses available on UK Learns.

    In terms of popular take up, we have seen people wanting to brush up on their core English and Maths skills, exploring traditional professions such as bookkeeping and accounting but also looking to equip themselves for the digital age through short introductory courses, such as ‘Marketing on Instagram’.

    Another real sign of the times, showing that people are taking major stock of their future job direction – whether through choice or lack thereof – is the popularity of the course ‘Which career for me?’

    Since launch we have been regularly adding new courses onto the UK Learns platform. We now have over 400 courses available covering everything from Advertising, Energy & Utilities and Professional Skills through to Pharmaceuticals and Teaching.

    And we are not stopping – just this month new categories have been added in Engineering
    & Manufacturing, Business, Consulting & Management and Environment & Agriculture.

    We are proud that UK Learns does and will continue to offer support for our workforce, as when and they need it, to help them start on the ladder of learning new skills and opening up new job