A petition to protect funding for applied general qualifications such as BTECs passed 100,000 signatures today and will now be considered for debate in parliament.
The petition was started by the Sixth Form Colleges Association as part of its #ProtectStudentChoice campaign, after the Department for Education announced plans to defund most level 3 applied general qualifications where they overlapped with A-levels and T Levels.
Despite mounting concerns from the sector, the DfE refused to back down over the plans, saying it was intent on “streamlining and improving” the quality of post-16 qualifications.
Just two days ago, the petition had received some 80,000 signatures – 20,000 below the number required for a debate. But after a last-minute surge the target was met before a crucial January 23 deadline.
“Hitting the 100,000-signature mark is fantastic news,” James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, told FE Week.
“Our thanks go to the 28 organisations in the Protect Student Choice coalition and to everyone who signed the petition.”
Kewin said that the government’s plan to scrap most BTECs will now be debated in Parliament, and that the qualifications have a “vital role” to play in the future qualifications landscape.
The campaign has received considerable political support- with 118 MPs sending a letter to secretary of state for education, Nadham Zahawi to express their concern about the plans back in October 2021.
“First a campaign coalition that spans the entire education sector, then a group of Parliamentarians from across the political divide and now more than 100,000 people from every part of the country have sent the same, straightforward message to the government: rethink the plan to defund most BTEC qualifications,” Kewin added.
The DfE’s plans to defund some BTECS were in response to a consultation on level 3 qualifications which ended in July 2021.
Government officials said funding would continue for BTECs where there is a “real need” for them, though it later added it expected applied generals to become “rare”.
The DfE is proposing a twin-track system of A-levels and T Levels, where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16.
It had planned to remove funding for qualifications which duplicate or overlap with T Levels or A-levels from 2023, but education secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced this would be delayed by a year in November 2021.
Officials have stated what they call the “strong” case for changing the current system, arguing: “For too long we have allowed too many young people to leave education without the skills employers need.”
However, campaigners have said that for many young people, studying BTECs will continue to be the most effective way of accessing higher education or skilled employment.
“These well-established, high-quality qualifications are popular with students and respected by employers and universities,” the petition said.
Campaigners also warned that removing BTECs will leave many students without a viable pathway after their GCSEs, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.