‘Significantly’ less than half of AGQs like BTECs will get the chop, government concedes

'Through this process we expect to remove just a small proportion of the total level 3 BTEC and other applied general style qualification offer'

'Through this process we expect to remove just a small proportion of the total level 3 BTEC and other applied general style qualification offer'

7 Apr 2022, 16:04

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Funding will be cut for only a “small proportion” of applied general qualifications such as BTECs that sit alongside A levels and T levels, the government has announced. 

Plans to defund level 3 applied general qualifications that overlap with A levels and T levels have been met with concern, with sector leaders saying the removal of these qualifications could limit choices and opportunities for young people. 

However, in a letter sent to members of the House of Lords today, secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi said that “significantly less than half” of the total level 3 BTEC and other applied general style qualifications, would be defunded.

This confirmation has been welcomed as “excellent news” by a leading figure in the Protect Student Choice campaign, whose petition to protect funding for applied generals reached 100,000 signatures in January.

Today’s announcement comes after Lord Blunkett tabled an amendment to the skills and post-16 education bill which would have prevented the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) from withdrawing funding for level 3 qualifications for at least three years. 

Zahawi’s letter this morning was a pitch to the Lords to drop Blunkett’s amendment so the bill can finally end its journey through parliament.

“We have set out the three tests that we are using to determine overlap with T Levels and we will publish the provisional list of qualifications that overlap with wave 1 and 2 T Levels in due course,” said Zahawi in his letter to the Lords. 

“It may be reassuring to know through this process we expect to remove just a small proportion of the total level 3 BTEC and other applied general style qualification offer – significantly less than half.”

Zahawi said that in practice, students will be able to take applied general style qualifications, including BTECs, alongside A levels as part of a mixed programme. 

“We are not creating a binary system. Our aim is to ensure that students can choose from a variety of high-quality options, of which T Levels, A levels, BTECs and other applied general style qualifications will play their part.”

In a section of the letter that offered clarifications over key concerns, the government said that only a “very small proportion” of BTECs will be removed simply because they overlap with T Levels. 

“Many currently have low numbers of enrolments (or none at all) and are not needed and some will not meet our new quality criteria. 

“For instance, we will remove approval from around 1,800 qualifications because they have low/no enrolments (including around 40 BTECs) – made up of c.400 with low enrolments and c.1400 with no enrolments,” the letter said. 

Zahawi added that the government have listened to concerns about the impact on disadvantaged students throughout the passage of the Bill. 

“I want to reassure your Lordships that no young person will be left without a clear and high-quality progression route.”

Employers can back AO appeals

In a debate in the House of Lords today, Baroness Barran, the DfE’s minister in the Lords, announced that there would be an appeals process for those qualifications that are at risk of being defunded. 

“We expect to publish the provisional list [of qualifications] in due course. There will be an opportunity for awarding organisations to appeal a qualification’s inclusion on the list to make sure that we have applied our overlap criteria fairly,” she said. 

Zahawi’s letter explained that employers will play an “important role” in the appeals process where qualifications have been provisionally identified as overlapping with T Levels and therefore in scope to have funding approval removed. 

“To ensure we have the best evidence when considering whether to continue funding qualifications, I can now guarantee that employers will have the opportunity to support awarding organisations and say if they believe qualifications support entry into occupations not covered by T Levels as part of the appeals process,” he said. 

The list of qualifications that are set to be defunded has not yet been published. The DfE told FE Week the list will be published after parliament’s Easter recess. 

Sector response

News of the update from the government was met with cautious optimism across the sector. 

The AoC’s chief executive David Hughes told FE Week that focus is now needed on the “most critical issues which remain” such as – whether T Levels will be accessible and available to enough young people in every area,  whether industry placements will be possible for everyone who wants one, in every place and how the concept of ‘overlap’ will be judged.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, and a leading figure in the Protect Student Campaign, said the government’s announcement was “excellent news” but that the Protect Student Choice coalition will keep a “close eye” on the list of qualifications that the government does propose to defund. 

Tom Bewick, chief executive at the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said today’s developments “demonstrates that ministers have been listening to many of the key arguments put forward by peers throughout the passage of the bill.”

And Lord Blunkett, who tabled the 15-B amendment to the skills and post-16 education bill said that whilst the introduction and conclusion of the Secretary of State’s letter are standard DfE lines to take, the centre piece – taken together with the statement at the dispatch box – is “genuine progress”. 

 “Whilst it does not constitute complete reassurance, it is substantial progress and clarification on the process, timetable and projected outcome of the current changes,” he added. 

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