Twelve education bodies have today slammed the education secretary for “ignoring” their concerns and ploughing ahead with plans to scrap the majority of BTECs.
In a letter to Gavin Williamson, sector leaders reiterate that disadvantaged students have the “most to lose” and that it is “impossible to square the government’s stated ambition to ‘level up’ opportunity” with the proposals.
The twelve organisations are part of the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign, which has now launched a petition to reverse the plans.
A notable absence from today’s letter and the campaign is the Association of Colleges. When approached for comment, the AoC said it does “share the overarching concern that students must not be left behind in a rush to introduce T Levels” but refused to say why it has chosen to not back the campaign.
Under the proposals, the Department for Education will introduce a twin-track system of A-levels and T Levels, where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16. “Poor quality” qualifications which duplicate or overlap with T Levels or A-levels will have their funding removed from 2023.
This will impact a range of applied general qualifications, but BTECs, offered by awarding body Pearson, are the most popular.
The education bodies’ letter claims that it is “clear” from the government’s response to the level 3 review that Williamson’s department “has ignored the concerns expressed by us (and most other respondents) about the proposal to remove funding for the vast majority of applied general qualifications such as BTECs”.
Almost 1,350 people responded to the consultation and the vast majority – 86 per cent – disagreed with the DfE’s plan to strip funding from qualifications which overlap with T Levels and A-levels.
‘We urge you to rethink plans to remove funding for BTECs’
The letter points out that the DfE is choosing to move forward with the reforms despite the department’s own impact assessment report admitting that students from SEND, Asian ethnic, and disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as males “are disproportionately likely to be affected by the changes” because a high proportion of these learners choose to study BTECs.
While a delay to the introduction of the government’s proposals would be “welcome”, the letter goes on to say that this “would not change the fact they have the potential to do huge damage to social mobility and are completely out of step with the views expressed by our members”.
The letter concludes by urging the government “to rethink plans to remove funding for the vast majority of applied general qualifications and instead provide assurances that they have an important role to play alongside the equally valuable A levels and T Levels in the future qualifications landscape”.
In response, a DfE spokesperson said: “Great qualifications are essential to helping everyone, regardless of their age or background, to reach their career goals and get good jobs.
“Our reforms will simplify and streamline the current system, ensuring that all qualifications are fit for purpose, are high-quality and lead to good outcomes.
“We are putting employers at the heart of the skills system and boosting the quality of qualifications on offer so that all students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, leave education with the skills employers need.”
After being asked why his association has not signed up to the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign, AoC chief executive David Hughes said: “We continue to work with DfE officials and have discussions with ministers about this and will press them to only de-fund qualifications once it is clear that they are not needed to meet the needs of all students and employers.
“In some areas it is clear that current applied generals and Tech Levels will need to be funded alongside T Levels, but it is likely that some will be superseded by the new T Levels once they have become established.
“The key test is whether they meet the needs of the whole cohort of learners ready to learn at level 3, and whether they support the breadth of progression in both learning and work those learners aspire to.”
The twelve organisations that have signed the letter are:
Association of School and College Leaders
Grammar School Heads Association
NASUWT: The Teachers Union
National Education Union
NEON: The National Education Opportunities Network
National Union of Students
SSAT: the schools students and teachers network
Sixth Form Colleges Association