DfE consults on scrapping quals competing with T Levels by 2023

The government has moved a step closer to removing funding for applied general qualifications, such as BTECs, that compete with T Levels and A-levels.

The Department for Education will today launch the second stage of its consultation on the future of vocational and technical qualifications at level 3 and below, which will run for 12 weeks.

The DfE claims there is currently a “confusing landscape” of over 12,000 courses on offer to young people at level 3 and below, with multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available – many of which are “poor quality and offer little value to students or employers”.

Today’s consultation will set out “detailed measures” that the education secretary Gavin Williamson will take to tackle this, including removing funding for the “majority” of qualifications that “overlap” with A-levels and T Levels by autumn 2023.

It will also include plans to open T Levels up to adults from 2023, as reported by FE Week earlier this month.

Williamson said the measures will “ensure that whether a student opts to study A-levels, a T Level or any other qualification, they can be confident that it will be high quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training”.

A briefing document, seen by FE Week ahead of the consultation launch, shows that for 16-to-19-year-olds, the DfE will propose to fund two groups of level 3 technical qualifications alongside T Levels.

The first will be qualifications that “give people the knowledge, skills and behaviours described in an employer-led standard that is not covered by a T Level”.

The second will be “additional specialist” qualifications that develop “more specialist skills and knowledge than could be acquired through a T Level alone” such as a course in marine engineering, which “builds on the technical qualifications in the maintenance, installation and repair T Level”.

The DfE will also propose to approve for funding two groups of “small academic qualifications” to be taken alongside, or as an alternative to, A-levels where there is a “clear need for skills and knowledge that A-levels alone cannot deliver”.

The first group includes qualifications that would “complement A-levels, for example, if they have more of a practical component, such as health and social care or engineering”. It will also include those that are designed to “enable progression to more specialist HE courses”, such as arts institutions.

The second group will be a “specific, limited group of well-recognised, small qualifications that develop wider skills to support study at higher education, such as core maths, performing arts graded qualifications and extended project qualifications”.

The DfE also plans to fund “large” qualifications that would “typically make up a student’s full programme of study and could be taken as an alternative to A-levels if they give access to specialist HE courses, such as those with high levels of practical content”. Examples might include sports or performing arts courses. The International Baccalaureate diploma will also continue to be funded.

For those aged 19 and over, the DfE says they will “generally need greater flexibility than 16-to-19-year-olds and will also tend to have greater prior experience”. So the department’s starting point for adults is that they “have available to them a similar offer as 16-to-19-year-olds but with some additional technical qualifications to meet their needs and more flexibility built into the design”.

The DfE will also propose three “key principles” for level 3 technical qualifications for adults: “Modular delivery of content; recognition of prior learning and experience; and assessing a student’s competence at the end of a course.”

The level 3 and below review includes applied generals, tech levels and technical certificates. While these cover a wide range of courses, BTECs, awarded by Pearson, are the most popular.

The DfE said it will also shortly publish a call for evidence inviting views on qualifications at level 2 and below, including basic skills qualifications (English, maths, ESOL and digital), to find out “what is working well”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said there is a “place for both T Levels and applied generals” to “happily and usefully coexist”.

He warned that to remove “too many” applied generals would “significantly impoverish the curriculum, damage social mobility and do nothing to reduce the skills gap”.