While I abhor the cancel culture that has emerged in recent years, and welcome open debate and the exchange of ideas as part of a process for getting to the right place in the end, I am having to work hard to remain open-minded in the face of Jon Yates’ article in Friday’s FE Week.
It is exactly this sort of muddled and ill-informed thinking that is threatening the education and social mobility opportunities available to hundreds of thousands of young people.
It is baffling that experienced and intelligent people are still so confused about the differences between applied and technical education; between qualifications that combine the development of skills with academic learning and qualifications that lead to a specific occupation.
If we are to remain economically secure and globally competitive, the workforce needs sufficient technical skills, attested by technical qualifications; but society and the economy also need workers who have pursued applied and academic learning, attested by A levels, applied generals (AGQs) and university degrees, with a view to entering professional careers.
When Yates writes of “the government’s decision to stop funding a load of technical education courses”, is he being disingenuous or does he really think that BTECs and other AGQs, with their classroom learning and preparation for HE, are technical and serve the same purpose as (equally valid, but totally different) license to practise tech levels for example?
If the government was genuinely trimming the large number of technical qualifications alone, would this be “making some people cross”? Of course not.
But the fact is, the government is proposing to cut the majority of well-respected (by employers and universities) qualifications that have recently been reformed so that they are more rigorous and demanding (did you know that, Mr Yates, or is your disparagement of BTECs based on the old versions?)
They also currently provide a meaningful pathway for hundreds of thousands of young people who are ready to access level 3 education; 44 per cent of white working class 18 year-olds and 34 per cent of learners from a BAME background who go to university, do so with BTECs.
And, if BTECs are not available to these young people, what will they do instead? Entry requirements for many T Level courses are tougher than those for A levels. So middle-pathway students will not choose T Levels in significant numbers; they are more likely to choose A Levels – or become NEET. What, seriously, does Yates think they will do?
And when Yates says that an AGQ “gives children some job knowledge, but also doubles as a source of UCAS points to getting into university”, is he not aware that T Levels also attract UCAS points and that last summer, more than one in three T Level students progressed to university rather than the workplace?
Finally, the wholly unnecessary and rather puerile attempt to inject some humour into the article: “(Whisper it: They do have another purpose, which is to make Pearsons (sic) quite a lot of revenue)” suggests that Mr Yates does not understand that T Levels, as well as almost all other qualifications, are being delivered by awarding organisations that charge a fee for their product.
Is this article misinformation or disinformation? Either way, I won’t even wrap my fish and chips in it.