Students face a “period of great uncertainty” after ministers rejected calls to withdraw applied general qualifications like BTECs from their defunding plans, or even delay the “damaging” reforms by a year.
The Department for Education will publish a list of new qualifications that will replace the current suite of applied generals in July 2024, for schools and colleges to start delivering in September 2025.
The expectation is that most level 3 alternatives to T Levels and A-levels, which must now go through a new strict approvals process, will be refused funding from this point forward.
Ministers have already made the “conscious choice” to exclude “certain” large academic qualifications, including in health and social care, applied science, and law, from this process.
The Sixth Form Colleges Association, which leads the Protect Student Choice campaign, mapped the list of qualifications that will be eligible for funding against the 134 recently reformed applied general qualifications currently available to young people and found an “astonishing” 75 will be ineligible.
In a letter to education secretary Gillian Keegan, 360 school and college leaders described the timescale as “simply not credible,” and urged her to push back the plans by at least a year. They also called on her to exclude the 134 AGQs from the reforms.
Schools and colleges that signed the letter pointed out that prospectuses and marketing materials for courses starting in September 2025 will already have been finalised by July 2024, and engagement work with students will be well underway.
They went on to write that “it will be very difficult to provide effective information, advice and guidance to young people if we do not know what qualifications we can deliver until the end of July 2024”.
Six peers, including two former education secretaries and two ex-universities minister, sent a similar letter to the DfE at the same time warning that scrapping “popular” alternatives to A-levels and T Levels would have a damaging impact on social mobility, economic growth and public services.
Skills, apprenticeships and HE minister Robert Halfon replied to the school and college leaders this week to confirm there will be no delay to the defunding timeline.
He simply said: “We understand that this is significant change, but we believe that the long-term benefits are what is needed”.
Halfon goes on to rule out removing the 134 AGQs from the scope of the review but offers no explanation as to why.
He believes that young people will not be left without a pathway once the reforms are complete. He said: “Our reforms will provide high-quality opportunities for all, and I do not agree that young people will fall out of the system”.
College leaders disagree
Altaf Hussein, principal of Luton Sixth Form College, said: “The proposed changes to defund most BTECS are short-sighted and likely to have a massive impact on the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who go on to HE and good jobs in key sectors like the NHS.”
Scott McKeown, head of New Bridge College and Future Finders Employability College, added that the removal of “these reputable qualifications” will present “further barriers for SEND students aiming to progress onto skilled employment or continue their learning journey through higher education, ultimately, disempowering them from reaching their academic potential or restricting them from entering their career of choice”.
Meanwhile, Alex Pett principal of Logic Studio School, pointed out that his technical school for 14-to-19-year-olds have “always found securing even one week work placements challenging”, let alone 45-day placements that T Levels require.
He told FE Week: “If all of our students were to move to T Levels, not only would they be narrowing their breadth of study, we would simply not be able to find sufficient, meaningful work placements for all of them. BTECs allow students to gain skills and recognition against specific and segmented assignments, more closely replicating their future experience in the workplace.”
Laranya Caslin, principal of St. George’s Academy in Lincolnshire, said the T Level model “seems to be suited to large cities and simply does not translate to the countryside”.
She explained that large employers across a range of industry sectors are “few and far between in our locality, and many of our students live in outlying villages with next to no public transport”.
Caslin added: “Surely every 16-yearold, no matter where they live, should be able to access a level 3 qualification in an area of genuine interest to them. If the availability of AGQs is substantially reduced, that chance will be under threat for well over 50 per cent of my ‘secondary modern’ sixth form intake.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, criticised Halfon’s letter.
“This response does not address any of the practical concerns raised by the 360 school and college leaders that signed the letter to the secretary of state. A one-year delay would have minimised the disruption to young people’s education caused by the implementation of the government’s flawed plan to scrap most BTECs,” he said.
“Instead, we will now move into a period of great uncertainty for students, staff and institutions.”