The Department for Education has stood firm on plans to strip public funding from a range of qualifications at level 3 in the face of a 13,000-strong petition protesting the move.
The petition was started by the Sixth Form Colleges Association as part of its #ProtectStudentChoice campaign and calls on government to reverse a decision to defund applied general qualifications such as BTECs.
It has now received an official response, in which the DfE says it is “streamlining and improving” the quality of post-16 qualifications, and says the future alternatives to A-levels or T Levels “may” include some BTECs, so long as “they meet the new criteria for funding approval”.
Students ‘leaving education without the skills employers need’
In its response to a consultation on level 3 qualifications which ended in July, the department 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 looking to introduce a twin-track system of A-levels and T Levels, where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16. “Poor quality” qualifications which duplicate or overlap with T Levels or A-levels will have their funding removed from 2023.
Officials have restated 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.”
The response cites a review of vocational education carried out by the prime minister’s now-skills advisor Alison Wolf, published in 2011, which found “the content of many technical qualifications was not valued by employers and provided little value to students”. What employers had told the 2016 Sainsbury Review, that “many individuals who have successfully completed qualifications remain poorly equipped to enter skilled work,” was also referenced in the DfE’s response.
“Now more than ever as we recover from the pandemic, we need students to finish education well equipped to progress to further training or to get a skilled job, allowing businesses to recover and thrive,” the response reads.
The government did say it plans to fund A-level-sized qualifications which will complement the general course but have a practical component and enable students to go on to specialist higher education courses.
What support students need to get to level 3 will be explored with a consultation on level 2 and below qualifications later this year.
Does DfE know the difference between technical courses and BTECs, SFCA asks
Upon receiving the government response, the Sixth Form Colleges Association said citing the Wolf and Sainsbury review showed the DfE “does not know the difference between technical qualifications and applied generals or is attempting to mislead”.
The Wolf report said BTECs are “valuable in the labour market,” while reform of the qualification was outside the Sainsbury Review’s remit, the SFCA retorted.
Gov response to #ProtectStudentChoice petition published today. Using Wolf and Sainsbury reviews to justify scrapping BTECs suggests @educationgovuk a. does not know the difference between tech quals and applied generals or b. is attempting to mislead 1/4https://t.co/DHKKvs62h4
— SFCA (@SFCA_info) August 20, 2021
“So the DFE case for change for scrapping BTECs rests on one report that rated them highly and another that did not look at them at all.
“The case for ‘streamlining and improving’ these qualifications is very thin given there are not very many of them (e.g. 40 BTEC subjects across our sector) and they are very popular with students, employers and HE. Scrapping BTECs would be a disaster.”
The association, along with multiple other sector representative groups, published a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson in July, under the banner #ProtectStudentChoice.
The letter highlighted how scrapping applied generals would hit disadvantaged students the most and urged the government to rethink.
You can see the petition for yourself here.
Read the government’s response to the #ProtectStudentChoice petition in full:
The government is streamlining and improving the quality of post-16 qualifications. We will fund a range of qualifications in addition to T Levels and A levels, which may include some BTECs.
The government will fund a range of qualifications to be taken alongside or as alternatives to T Levels and A-levels in future. This may include some Pearson BTECs provided they meet new criteria for funding approval.
Final plans setting out the groups of qualifications that will be available alongside T Levels and A-levels in future were published on 14 July. This followed a consultation on level 3 qualifications that ran from 23 October to 31 January.
The case for change is strong. For too long we have allowed too many young people to leave education without the skills employers need.
The Wolf Review (2011) found that the content of many technical qualifications was not valued by employers and provided little value to students.
Similarly, the Sainsbury Review (2016) found that employers continue to report that many individuals who have successfully completed qualifications remain poorly equipped to enter skilled work.
Now more than ever as we recover from the pandemic, we need students to finish education well equipped to progress to further training or to get a skilled job, allowing businesses to recover and thrive.
Our reforms to level 3 qualifications will strengthen pathways to progression, creating clearly defined academic and technical routes centred around A-levels and T Levels with qualifications leading to further study, and/or skilled employment.
This clarity of purpose will provide students with a range of good options and allow them to see more easily how their study will help them to progress.
We have consulted in two stages on reforms to level 3 qualifications alongside T Levels and A-levels and have listened to feedback at each stage of the review.
The response to the second stage consultation sets out the range of situations where we see a role for qualifications to sit alongside T Levels and A-levels. Alongside T Levels, this includes technical qualifications that support progression to occupations outside of the T Level framework.
On the academic route, we will fund a small range of high-quality academic qualifications to sit alongside A levels and help students to progress to higher education (HE). These include A-level-sized qualifications designed to complement A-level study, often with a practical component, and large qualifications designed to enable access to specialist HE. These qualifications will fulfil a role similar to current applied general qualifications, which include some BTECs. We will set a high bar for quality and for demonstrating the need for qualifications, particularly if there is overlap with A-levels.
We recognise that some students do not always know what they want to do at 16 and that is why we need outstanding information, advice and guidance to support them to make good choices. Others may also need to study in different ways in the future such as accessing T Levels through the newly launched T Level Transition Programme.
We will explore how to support students who need additional support before they are ready for A-levels and other academic qualifications at level 3 through a consultation on level 2 and below qualifications later this year.