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”.

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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

Collab Group

Edge Foundation

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


University Alliance

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  1. Karen Streggles

    Great public affairs job here by Pearsons. Their shareholders will be proud.

    This is just faux outrage self-interest.

    The system is confusing – we need one clear system for technical as we do academic. This makes it easier for the public (parents/students) and employers – who the technical education sector is there to serve and they are the ones who pay for it through their taxes.

    I never even had heard of “Applied Generals” before working at a College. What is the difference between a BTEC, Cambridge Technical,
    Level 3 Extended Certificate or Level 3 City and Guilds? How is a working-class parent on a zero hour contract living on a council estate meant to know the difference or have the time to find out? T Levels or A Levels – easy to understand.

    The leaders in the fragmented FE sector have failed to sort themselves out to make it easy for the public to understand – so the Government is left to clear the mess up. You made your bed.

    • Derek Tilley

      The Tories privitised the qualification system, so we can blame them for the commercial interest of Pearsons.
      However there are very few T levels on the cards and industry just does not have the placements for the bulk of people so they will never replace the current batch of awards. I have sympathy with the confusion but we are getting used to Level 2/3/4/5 regardless of the name of the qualification.

  2. Phil Hatton

    Not the first government to muck around with the best alternative to A levels, especially in areas like science. GNVQs were a disaster – trying to bring about an academic NVQ. Did a lot of damage to the BTEC brand which was then seen as the first real alternative for University entry. Now we have T levels, a more academic version of apprenticeships – sound familiar? If they abandon BTECs it might just make them irretrievable this time. Why have I got no time for government advisers and civil servants who do not learn from history?

  3. Paul Griffin

    One has to wonder about the AoC. Biggest threat to the bread and butter of the vast majority of its members and it stays silent. Get off the fence. The AoC needs to stop thinking about ministerial relationships and actually fight for its members and it’s fees!

    Secondly, it is clear from recent webinars that officials advising ministers are in way over their collective heads. Their grasp of the current system is tentative at best and this dangerous grasp of facts on the ground is misleading their political masters. I would suggest each undertakes 45 days of an industry placement in a FE College but the irony would be lost on them. Those groups writing to the secretary of state would be well advised as a next step to question the competence of those in charge of policy and seek to establish an expert group to prevent the inevitable failures from happening.

  4. Derek Tilley

    Here we go again, Ministers have tried before to get rid of BTEC’s . They together with HNC and HND are the backbone of Skills training in this country. T Levels are a train crash waiting to happen as were GNVQ’s which were to replace BTEC’s a number of years ago.
    For goodness sake do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  5. Keith Lemon

    You have missed the point. The public do not need to “know” about these collective qualifications. The point is that it will disadvantage so many students by narrowing their options.

  6. FEBuff

    I thought the AoC had been dissolved years ago. Their impact on policy and supporting of colleges is completely zero. Subscriptions for what exactly? flashy conference where ministers run off as soon as they have spoken. Rather pay 50% less, and have a single task driven lobbying group. This is a joke.