Twelve organisations that represent and support staff and students in schools, colleges and universities have today written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him not to scrap the vast majority of applied general qualifications such as BTECs.

Earlier this month, the Department for Education confirmed plans to introduce a twin-track system of A levels and T levels (a new suite of technical qualifications), where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16. As a result, funding for most BTEC qualifications will be removed.

The Department set out its plans following a review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3. However, in their letter to the Education Secretary, the twelve organisations in the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign say the review ignored the widespread concerns expressed about scrapping BTECs and that “Many young people will be adversely affected by this proposal, but disadvantaged students have the most to lose, a conclusion that your Department’s own equalities impact assessment supports”.

The letter describes applied general qualifications as “engines of social mobility” and cites research from the Social Market Foundation that found 44% of white working-class students enter university with at least one BTEC and 37% of black students enter with only BTEC qualifications. The organisations write that “It is impossible to square the government’s stated ambition to ‘level up’ opportunity with the proposal to scrap most 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”.

To coincide with the letter to the Education Secretary, the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign has today launched a petition to reverse the plan to remove funding for BTEC qualifications. The petition can be found here.    

Commenting on the letter:

James Kewin, Deputy Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Applied general qualifications like BTECs are popular with students, respected by employers and provide a well-established route to higher education or employment. So it is hard to fathom why the government wants to scrap most of them and force young people to choose between studying A levels or T levels from the age of 16. Disadvantaged students have the most to lose from this proposal, which we hope the government will now take the time to reconsider.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Applied general qualifications give many disadvantaged young people an established route to higher education, apprenticeships and future careers. It would be reckless of the government to ditch these qualifications simply to clear the way for T-levels which may well prove to be a good option for some young people but are largely untried and untested.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“At a time when young people need more support than ever to realise and rebuild their futures, scrapping these qualifications is a retrograde step which will damage the prospects of the most disadvantaged students the most. We should be expanding the pathways for young people to succeed and flourish, not closing them off.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: "It is clear there is no intention by this Government to level up. Applied General Qualifications have an important role to play in education and supporting social mobility. Cutting funding for the majority of these qualifications will severely disadvantage many students who would benefit from achieving on these courses. It will also lead to colleges becoming unviable, meaning closures as well as teacher and support staff redundancies."

Ends

Notes to editors:

  1. The letter can be found here and more information about the accompanying #ProtectStudentChoice campaign can be found here
  2. 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, UNISON, and University Alliance. 
  3. The Department for Education’s response to the Review of post-16 Qualifications at level 3: second stage can be found here. The policy statement document reaffirms the Department’s commitment to creating two main pathways at the age of 16: an academic route where most students study A levels to progress to higher education, and a technical route where most students study T levels to progress to skilled employment. The response document states that, with only a small number of exceptions, “Larger academic qualifications (including applied general qualifications larger than one A level) will not be funded if they overlap with T Levels or A levels”.
  4. The data in the letter is taken from the Social Market Foundation report Vocation, Vocation, Vocation that can be found here
  5. The most recent data for participation in education, training and employment in England (end of 2019) shows that 864,304 16 to 18 year olds are studying at Level 3. The majority (55%) are studying A levels only, 19% are studying applied general qualifications such as BTECs (in some cases alongside A levels) and 4% are studying technical qualifications. Because of recent changes to Department for Education performance tables, 22% of students are categorised as studying an ‘Other Level 3’ course. We conservatively estimate that at least half of the students in this group are studying older-style applied general qualifications, which is why they feature in this category. So in total, we estimate that at least 30% of 16 to 18 year olds studying a Level 3 qualification in England are pursuing applied general qualifications such as BTECs – 259,291 young people.
  6. For more information, please contact Noni Csogor at the Sixth Form Colleges Association: 07496 306954 noni.csogor@sixthformcolleges.org