Labour has warned cutting off public funding for BTECs could entrench inequalities in exam results, especially affecting students with free school meals or special educational needs.
Ofqual equalities analysis of spring and summer 2021’s results for applied general, like BTEC, and other vocational performance table qualifications, shows students on free school meals were on average four per cent less likely to achieve the highest grades at levels 1 and 2 than students not on FSM.
The probability of free school meal students not getting top grades has increased to four per cent
SEND students were 5.3 per cent less likely to achieve the highest grade than their non-SEND peers in spring and summer 2021, the analysis also showed.
But Labour has found students on free school meals were 57 per cent less likely to achieve a grade 7 or above in their GCSEs this year, according to its own analysis of Ofqual’s data.
Pulling BTEC funding could ‘hold young people back’
Shadow FE and skills minister Toby Perkins is concerned the government’s plans to pull public funding from qualifications like BTECs “risks embedding inequalities and holding young people back”.
Yet the Ofqual analysis also shows students on free school meals are increasingly less likely to get the highest grade in those vocational qualifications than non-FSM students.
The average probability of free school meal students not getting the top grades has increased from 2.3 per cent in 2018 to four per cent in 2021.
Students with SEND were 3.6 per cent less likely than non-SEND learners to achieve top grades in 2018; rising to 5.3 per cent this year.
Following its level 3 and below qualifications review, the Department for Education last month revealed applied general courses will become “rare” under a new streamlined system of qualifications.
Applied generals are set to have their public funding pulled if they overlap with the government’s new T Level qualifications, unless awarding bodies can demonstrate a “real need” for them.
However, an equalities assessment run by the department for the review showed 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.
Perkins said: “Despite recognising the harmful impact that this decision will have on students from poorer backgrounds, the Conservatives are ploughing ahead, showing a shocking disregard for young people’s life chances.”
More people applying to university with BTECs
Eleven sector leaders published a joint statement under the banner #ProtectStudentChoice in June, warning 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”.
The latest undergraduate application data from admissions service UCAS shows there was a 13 per cent increase in English people applying to universities with BTECs between 2011 and 2020, a 119 per cent increase by those applying with BTECs and A-levels, while there has been a two per cent drop from those applying with A-levels.
“These qualifications are valued by employers, universities and students themselves,” Perkins argued. “The government’s alternative T-Level qualifications are currently unproven and a hasty charge to abolish BTECs would be hugely irresponsible.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said their qualification reforms “will simplify and streamline the current system, ensuring that all qualifications are fit for purpose, are high-quality and lead to good outcomes.
“Great qualifications are essential in helping everyone reach their career goals and get good jobs, regardless of their age or background.”
But they promised reforms would be implemented in a manageable way.