What’s the future of applied general qualifications – should they stay or go? Lee Hunt shares his thoughts on which ones, post-T-level, are doomed for the scrap heap

In the context of the new T-levels, there’s a legitimate debate around the future of applied general qualifications. Rather than asking whether they will stay or go, however, I think the more relevant question is, ‘Which ones should stay, and which should go?’

Like many in the sector, I have been studying the progression and development of T-levels. I have researched numerous government documents and policies, taken part in workshops, webinars and seminars – and discussed my thinking with colleagues, other providers, awarding bodies, employers and consultants as well as government officials. This has included working with AoC, DfE and more recently, the Gatsby Foundation.

I believe the ethos of the new T-level is not to replace vocational pathways but to enhance them. It is to ensure that employers are clear on the skills, knowledge and attributes their future workforce are obtaining, and to give parents and children a clear perspective on what they can achieve outside of the classroom environment. It’s an evolutionary process with a modern approach, and one that is for the good of us all. Based on this thinking, I believe there are AGQs that have life in them still, those that are in a grey area, and those that have run their course.

So what are you delivering that fits in the category of, stay, grey or go? I have taken three current BTECs that are flagship level 3 main qualifications at Havant & South Downs College and looked at their validity compared to a T-level. This is only a snapshot, but I believe it illustrates that not all AGQs are fit for purpose and if we do not remove them, we undermine the T-level ethos.

Not all AGQs are fit for purpose

HSDC BTEC level 3 extended diploma in sports science. This course is currently supporting learners who are looking for a pathway through a university programme – as shown by our 90 per cent HE destination rate from this course. There is currently no clear T-level route or pathway that offers an alternative.

HSDC BTEC level 3 extended diploma in public services. This course is currently supporting diverse learner aspirations, which include university, as well as the armed and emergency services. Approximately 30 per cent move into a service and 40 per cent into HE. There is a planned protective service route (but only as an apprenticeship). Most uniformed public services support their own apprenticeship delivery and there is always the argument that leavers cannot really enter the police or fire service until they are mature enough to do so (normally 21) and therefore are more prone to look to universities to enhance their employability and life experience, alongside their academic attainment. Work experience is really challenging for this course due to the requirements of the sector and the potential hazards the learners may encounter within the working environment. It doesn’t seem that this could easily be replaced by a T-level.

HSDC BTEC level 3 extended diploma in IT. At the end of last year, over 60 per cent of leavers from this course were looking for employment, 18 per cent were unsure as to what they wanted to do, and the remainder moved onto HE. We have worked with several employers who support the work experience and outcome, all of whom are positive about accepting our students into the workplace and developing their career pathway from there. Apprenticeships are challenging in this sector and, despite our best efforts, hard to source and support. This qualification could be discontinued and replaced by the digital T-level route.

A statement was made by FE Week’s editor at the recent T-levels debate in parliament, calling for the government to be honest about their plans for T-levels. I feel that we as a sector should also be honest, and the starting point is to admit which AGQs are no longer fit for purpose, in line with the government’s industrial and career strategies.