Milton denies qualifications shake-up ahead of T-level roll-out is market manipulation

The government’s consultation on plans to withdraw funding for thousands of applied general qualifications including BTECs is not manipulation of the market to ensure T-levels are a success, the skills minister has insisted.

Speaking to FE Week, Anne Milton said: “There is no manipulation whatsoever. If somebody is providing or teaching qualifications that are of high quality, have a clear purpose, have good progression and are necessary, and they feel they need to sit alongside T-levels, A-levels and apprenticeships then they should have nothing to fear.”

She stressed that this is an “open consultation” and the Department for Education has “not pre-judged any of the qualifications available”.

There is no manipulation whatsoever

Earlier today the department launched the first part of a two-stage consultation to decide the futures of over 12,000 vocational qualifications at level 3 and below.

The review includes applied generals, tech levels and technical certificates, which are vocational alternatives to A-levels. While these cover a wide range of courses, BTECs, awarded by Pearson, make up the large majority of them.

The government claims many of these qualifications, of which there are more than 12,000, are of “poor quality” and their existence leaves young people and employers “confused”.

Open for 12 weeks, the government is firstly consulting on “only providing public funding for qualifications that meet key criteria on quality, purpose, necessity and progression” and “not providing public funding for qualifications for 16 to 19 year olds that overlap with T-levels or A-levels”.

Sector leaders have expressed concern to FE Week that the review appears to be a way of pushing out BTECs, qualifications which over 200,000 students take every year and have survived multiple sector reforms since the 1980s, to ensure parents and young people opt for T-levels to make them a success.

The consultation document even has a section entitled: “Making T-levels and A-levels the options of choice for students undertaking level 3 classroom-based education.”

When quizzed on whether the review was a way of manipulating the qualifications market, Milton said: “This [consultation] is not a way of doing anything. We have A-levels and T-levels which are classroom-based qualifications and we have got apprenticeships that are work-based. So what we need to do is look, this review is about looking at what else we need, what other qualifications we need to sit alongside those.

This review is about looking at what else we need, what other qualifications we need to sit alongside those.

“Bearing in mind we want qualifications to be high-quality, have a clear purpose, good progression and to be necessary, the first stage [of this consultation] is about looking what principles we should adopt.

“Nobody should second guess anything we do because it is an entirely open consultation. Qualifications should serve a student well, so if you are a student you should have a qualification that gives you real currency in the work place or further study.”

Asked if a BTEC has its funding withdrawn and a student can no longer do that qualification, but there is no appropriate T-level industry placement or apprenticeship in their area, what options there would be for that student at age 16, Milton said: “That is precisely why we’re doing the consultation.

“Exactly the points you have raised we want to hear all those comments from everyone in the sector.”

The minister also pointed out there is a “whole suite of qualifications” at level 3 and below for people who have learning difficulties and disabilities, “so we are very aware we need qualifications that cater for everybody’s needs” but added “we do need a more simplified system”.

Milton said the rollout of T-levels, which will start in 2020, is “rightly quite slow” and the DfE “would not switch off qualifications if there weren’t T-levels available”.