Revealed: Most T Level drop outs switch to axed courses

90% of T Level drop-outs that switched to other technical courses went on to qualifications due to be defunded

90% of T Level drop-outs that switched to other technical courses went on to qualifications due to be defunded


Nearly all students who dropped out of the second wave of T Levels switched to a course that is set to be scrapped through controversial government plans. 

The exclusive data has sparked renewed calls for the Conservatives to abandon their proposals that involve defunding a host of level 3 qualifications in the next two years and for Labour to stand behind their commitment to “pause and review” the reforms.  

The Department for Education’s latest T Level action plan, published in April, confirmed previous FE Week reports that a third of students who started a T Level in 2021 left the programme early.  

A total 5,321 students enrolled in 2021 but only 3,510 completed. Of the third that withdrew, 370 did an apprenticeship, 716 transferred to another course and 682 left education.  

But the action plan did not lay out the courses those 716 learners chose.  

Data obtained by FE Week through the Freedom of Information (FOI) law, and analysed by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), revealed 90 per cent of students who switched to other technical or vocational courses chose a qualification that will be axed by 2026 under Tory reforms. 

Seventy students, one in ten, swapped T Levels for A-levels, another 50 did a different academic qualification and six did a different T Level. 

But 145 students, one in five, moved to a lower level 1 or level 2 qualification.  

James Kewin, the deputy chief executive of the SFCA, believes defunding non-T Level qualifications and funding limited alternatives will result in more students choosing lower-level courses in their post-16 choices.

Defunded options

Three in five (439) switchers moved to an applied general, tech level or vocational and technical qualification (VTQs).   

These have been earmarked to lose public money, either because they overlap with T Levels or because they don’t meet the government’s criteria for “reformed” level 3s.  

SFCA’s analysis shows 397 of the 439 students switched to qualifications that will be axed. 

James Kewin

Kewin said: “It’s hard to fathom how ministers can look at this sort of data and conclude it is in the best interests of students to plough ahead with the plan to scrap most non-T Level qualifications. 

“The government remains determined to remove the safety net provided by these qualifications, despite the data published today showing the very obvious dangers of doing so.” 

Introducing T Levels has not in itself been controversial, with many in the sector supportive in principle because of the extra teaching hours, higher per-student funding rates and generous capital funding for colleges and schools. 

But removing public funding from rival qualifications and heavily restricting other options has been one of the most controversial education policies of the Conservative government. 

Kewin, who leads the Protect Student Choice campaign coalition of 28 school, further and higher education organisations, said he “looks forward to a very different approach being adopted after next week’s election”. 

Last June, the campaign secured a commitment from Labour to “pause and review” the defunding of qualifications if it won power. 

Seema Malhotra, the shadow skills minister, said in October Labour “will work with colleges to develop the skills Britain needs through a pause and review of the disruptive defunding of qualifications”. 

But the promise was absent from this month’s Labour manifesto

FE Week understands DfE officials have identified defunding level 3 qualifications as an issue for urgent decisions for the incoming education secretary.

Latest education roles from

Design and Technology Technician

Design and Technology Technician

Kingswood Academy

Learning Resource Centre Assistant

Learning Resource Centre Assistant

Hull College

Course Leader – Electrical Installation

Course Leader – Electrical Installation

Bridgwater & Taunton College

Lecturer Carpentry

Lecturer Carpentry

Bridgwater & Taunton College

Lecturer Electrical

Lecturer Electrical

Bridgwater & Taunton College

Head of Langdon College (London)

Head of Langdon College (London)

Kisharon Langdon

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...


More from this theme


Revealed: 74 qualifications survive 2025 level 3 course cull

Approved 'alternative' qualifications can be funded alongside A-levels and T Levels

Shane Chowen
Qualifications, T Levels

DfE renames struggling T Level transition programme

Officials think the name change will improve progression to T Levels

Shane Chowen
Politics, Qualifications

Labour pledges to pause and review BTECs cull

Party would not defund any AGQs under the current timeline if it wins the next general election

Billy Camden
Long read, Qualifications, Skills reform

Destination defund: the fight to save travel and tourism courses

High-profile workforce shortages in the travel industry haven’t stopped the government’s plans to defund rafts of popular courses. Jessica...

Jessica Hill

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. The DfE does itself no favours when it applies different rules and terminology to various programmes.

    For instance, in AEB/ASF, if a learner transfers to another course, it’s not considered a drop out or a withdrawal and is excluded from achievement rate calculations.

    But here we have a story about T levels where a bunch of learners have transferred to other courses and are called drop outs / withdrawals.

    The important missing bit is understanding why they left the original course not just the fact that they did. But as is so often the case, the desire to politicise everything seems to be favoured above well reasoned learning about what is actually happening.

    Apprenticeships aren’t immune either, if an apprentice changes provider but stays on the same standard, they can be counted as two drop outs, or at best 1 achievement but 2 leavers.

    • Mother of a T level student

      Drop outs or pushed outs?
      My child stared a T level, but there was only a handful of students on the course. It folded within 2 weeks, leaving us with very few options. He was able to do the first year of his BTEC, but not the second year. Now only the first year of the T level is offered locally, so he can’t complete the Extended Diploma.
      I contacted the D of E, but they were less useful than a chocolate teapot. It seems they are more concerned about smoothing over their own image, than helping or caring about the young people who are being messed about by poor implementation of policy.

  2. As a specialist T level tutor it is true about students dropping out of this subject simply because its to hard to digest the units and take, including examination leave them bewildered and confused which brings on stress and anxiety this is why they leave its miss sold to them

  3. Big Daddy

    Whilst the defunding of level 3 quals, particularly BTEC, is not right, this is a very politically influenced article and frankly is pretty poor journalism.

    The clear focus of the article, its clearly an outright attack on the conservative education policy in favour of promoting Labour’s

    I expected better from FE weekly