A serious blow has potentially been dealt to plans for a rigid post-16 divide between academic and vocational education, after it emerged the government is retaining Applied General qualifications.
The Department for Education had privately briefed stakeholders on the decision, and confirmed it to FE Week this afternoon.
Retaining AGs, for example BTECs that lead to university in creative industries, will be viewed by many as a blow to the academic and vocational divide at 16 concept, introduced through Lord Sainsbury’s influential review that inspired the subsequent new skills plan last summer.
The apparent change of heart over AGs, which had been widely tipped for the chop, will be welcomed by awarding organisations that provide BTECS.
Rebecca Grayson, OCR head of vocational products, said: “OCR welcomes this latest DfE announcement.
“AG qualifications, such as Cambridge Technicals, give learners the option of a broader post-16 programme of study, equipping them with the relevant knowledge and skills that they need to succeed in higher education and beyond.”
Rod Bristow, president of Pearson in the UK, said: “We are pleased by the support that BTEC and other AG qualifications have received from schools, colleges, universities, employers and Government.
“BTEC AG qualifications provide a broad but highly applied, career-driven education which delivers skills that will be vital in adapting to the jobs of the future.
“The new BTEC Nationals, designed alongside employers and universities include task-based external assessments, not just exams. In setting higher standards, they will ensure even greater success for BTEC students when they progress to university or into work.
“Around 100,000 students enrol at university every year with a BTEC, and these students are more representative of society than A level so this is a good decision for social mobility.
“We look forward to working with the government and Ofqual to ensure that all AGs meet high standards. “
When asked about the decision, a DfE spokesperson told FE Week today that its “current position” is to retain the AGs category in official performance tables, but a review this is “ongoing”.
Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager for 14-19 and curriculum at the Association of Colleges, said: “We are delighted that the government has made the decision to retain AGs.
“Qualifications, such as BTECs, meet the needs of a variety of students in subjects such as performing arts and sport.
“They allow for a broader range of study of a particular subject, and these qualifications are vital in improving social mobility and raising young people’s aspirations.
“AoC will continue to work closely with the DfE and Ofqual to ensure that the value of AGs continues to be recognised.
“It’s vital that these qualifications continue to be robust in providing appropriate skills and knowledge.”
It had been anticipated that AGs would be scrapped, as the government moves towards a two-pronged post-16 education landscape – with learners channelled to either academic A-levels or vocational T-levels.
Officially in the Post-16 Skills Plan, unveiled last July in the wake of the Sainsbury Review, AGs are in the academic route – because of their link to university entry.
However, it’s not really that clear cut. Currently the biggest number of students not following an A-Level route is AGs, actual true technical provision is currently very small.
Reflecting on the value of AGs, Association of Employment and Learning Providers boss Mark Dawe said: “You could argue that they are qualifications that develop a range of generic skills in a more vocational context.
“Many rightly argue that many learners need a mixed economy of academic A levels and applied qualifications at school and that they lead to progression for many to university.
“This is the role of the AG, as we see the technical qualifications becoming 900 hour full time programmes in their own right.
“What we must watch out for, however, is that learners are not persuaded that these qualifications are full vocational options and therefore the student can stay at school, when actually they would be better off in an apprenticeship or full time TPE course [T-levels].
“It emphasises once again how vital independent advice and guidance will be to underpin the success of the government’s education and skills reform programme. Without it the whole agenda is likely to fail.”