Government plans to remove funding for the majority of BTECs will hit the most disadvantaged young students the hardest, numerous sector-representative groups have warned.
In a joint statement published today for a campaign called #ProtectStudentChoice, 11 organisations urge ministers to rethink plans outlined in the level 3 qualifications review.
They express concern that removing funding for BTEC qualifications “will leave many students without a viable pathway at the age of 16 and will hamper progress to higher education or skilled employment”.
Exams regulator Ofqual raised similar fears in January after a consultation on the review closed, warning that learner choice would be adversely narrowed and that the move would destabilise the qualifications market.
The Department for Education’s own impact assessment concludes that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose if applied general qualifications are defunded, as it is these students who typically choose to take the courses.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the plans as a “hugely unnecessary risk which will hit disadvantaged youngsters hardest”.
School, college and university groups are now encouraging their members to write to their MPs to make the case to ministers to protect BTECs.
The Department for Education is expected to publish the final outcome of the review before the end of the summer term.
Under proposed plans, the department would introduce a binary system of T levels and A-levels, where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16.
It will involve stripping down what the DfE claims to be a “confusing landscape” of over 12,000 courses on offer to young people at level 3 and below, removing funding for those that compete with T Levels and A-levels by autumn 2023.
Ministers claim there are multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available – many of which are “poor quality and offer little value to students or employers”.
The 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.
In their joint statement, the 11 organisations warn that for “many” young people, applied generals will be a “more appropriate route to support progression to higher levels of study or a meaningful job, than an A level or T level-only study programme”.
Defunding them would “leave many students without a viable pathway at the age of 16 and will hamper progress to higher education or skilled employment”.
The organisations also say the present implementation timeline is “not feasible, particularly given the unfolding impact of the Covid pandemic”.
They add that funding should not be removed for any applied general qualification unless an “impartial, evidence-based assessment has concluded that it is not valued by students or employers”.
‘It is a hugely unnecessary risk’
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said: “The government’s plan to sweep away the majority of applied general qualifications like BTECs will make it harder for many young people to access higher education and harder for many employers to access the skills they need. Ministers must protect student choice and guarantee that applied general qualifications have a major role to play in the future.”
Barton added: “Scrapping applied generals will pull the rug from under the feet of the 200,000 young people who benefit each year from taking these proven and established qualifications which provide a great pathway to university courses, training and careers.
“It is a hugely unnecessary risk which will hit disadvantaged youngsters hardest.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Our reforms to technical education are more crucial now as we recover from the pandemic. For too long we have allowed too many young people to leave education without the skills employers need – it’s critical we act now to address these skills shortages.
“We are putting employers at the heart of the skills system and boosting the quality of qualifications on offer so that all students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be confident that whatever option they take post-16 it will be high quality and will lead to good outcomes.
“We have always been clear we want to phase these reforms in so that they are manageable.”
The 11 organisations that have issued today’s joint statement are:
Association of School and College Leaders
Grammar School Heads Association
NASUWT: The Teachers Union
National Education Union
NEON: The National Education Opportunities Network
National Union of Students
SSAT: the schools students and teachers network
Sixth Form Colleges Association