Scrapping BTECs is bad for levelling up and for BAME students

9 Nov 2021, 11:03

It’s difficult to see how reducing choice at level 3 by scrapping BTECs will improve social mobility and diversity, writes Kasim Choudhry

Government plans to remove funding for qualifications such as BTECs could negatively impact progression opportunities for learners and the availability of skilled labour for employers, but for BAME learners, local communities and employers it could be a bigger blow.

The government recognised and promoted the notion of inclusion and diversity and pioneered the agenda of levelling up both education and opportunities.

So why now, after all the hard work that’s been done, would they want to potentially risk what has already been achieved?

Why would government want to potentially risk what has already been achieved?

There is a serious risk that present government plans would reverse current trends to widen diversity and broaden inclusion in education. 

The Department for Education’s own impact assessment published with the level 3 reform plans estimates that learners with special educational needs, from Asian or ethnic backgrounds, males, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are all more likely to be negatively impacted by the reforms.

Less than half of all enrolments for qualifications likely to be removed come from the least deprived students.

As a stark comparison, the students who will be impacted consist of:

  • 46 per cent for Asian students
  • 47 per cent for SEN students
  • 50 per cent for those receiving free school meals
  • 47 per cent for the most deprived students

BTECs offer more than just a qualification, they are a route of continued engagement, a vital step in our aim for genuine lifelong learning and for many, a stepping stone into higher education and entering the workforce.

BTEC qualifications also support a more diverse higher education population before they enter the workforce. 

The latest data (2017) shows a larger proportion of students from a BAME background progressing to HE with a BTEC only, compared to A-levels only. 

This difference is particularly large for black students, of whom five per cent progress with A-levels only, and 14 per cent with a BTEC only. 

Learners wanting to progress on to an apprenticeship at level 3 may also have their choices reduced because qualifications previously offered as full-time courses might no longer be available to be used as part of an apprenticeship programme at a local college or training provider.  

BTEC qualifications also support a more diverse higher education population

This is especially concerning, given how low apprenticeship numbers are currently as the UK continues to recover from the pandemic.  

There is a serious risk the proposals will also reverse trends to widen diversity and broaden inclusion within higher education. 

The same is true of progression to higher level apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, especially in sectors such as construction and engineering.  

T levels will be a highly valuable choice for those learners who are ready to specialise at level 3, but if they are positioned as the only vocational choice at level 3, many will be left with limited or no options to access and progress. 

T Levels are heavily reliant upon industry placements. In some parts of the country, it is unlikely regions will have relevant industries to supply the placements for some T Levels. 

Without an alternative, students will have to travel long distances to their next closest college, or they will have to choose a course in a subject not their first choice. 

Where we live might soon determine our choice of educational pathway and ultimately career.  

It’s difficult to see how reducing choice at level 3 will improve social mobility, diversity and inclusion and the levelling-up agenda in areas the government wants to see thrive – I fear it is more likely to do the opposite. 

These reforms, and the managed decline of educational opportunities for young people, cannot be left unchallenged. 

We appeal to ministers to listen again to the voices calling for system reform and not potentially risk what is already working for disadvantaged groups of young people already impacted by a lack of diversity and inclusion. 

A-levels have their place and T Levels are a welcome addition, but they will not on their own solve the UK’s skills gap. 

The BAME Apprenticeship Network supports the #protectstudentchoice campaign. 

Please look into this yourself and if you agree, also make your voice heard by  signing the government petition now. 

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