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Protect Student Choice: Stop stealth removal of BTEC funding

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Protect Student Choice: Stop stealth removal of BTEC funding

Education bodies say government plans to remove funding for BTEC qualifications “will leave many students without a viable pathway at the age of 16”

Eleven organisations that represent staff and students in schools, colleges and universities have today issued a joint statement urging the government to rethink plans to remove funding for the majority of applied general qualifications such as BTECs. 

The Department for Education is currently consulting on plans to introduce a binary system of T levels and A levels, where most young people pursue one of these qualifications at the age of 16. As a result, funding for the majority of BTEC qualifications will be removed.

In the statement issued today, the organisations welcome the introduction of T levels (a new suite of technical qualifications) but express concern that removing funding for BTEC qualifications “will leave many students without a viable pathway at the age of 16 and will hamper progress to higher education or skilled employment”.

The statement emphasises the importance of students having the option to study applied general qualifications in the future, as for many young people they “will be a more appropriate route to support progression to higher levels of study or a meaningful job, than an A level or T level-only study programme”.

Concerns are also raised about the impact of the government’s plans on disadvantaged students: “the Department for Education’s own impact assessment concludes that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose if applied general qualifications are defunded”, and the timing of the government’s plans: “the present implementation timeline is not feasible, particularly given the unfolding impact of the Covid pandemic”.

The statement concludes by urging the government not to remove funding for applied general qualifications such as BTECs “unless an impartial, evidence-based assessment has concluded that it is not valued by students or employers”. The organisations will continue to work together through the new #ProtectStudentChoice campaign aimed at ensuring applied general qualifications play a major role in the future qualifications landscape.

Commenting on the joint statement, Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said: “The government’s plan to sweep away the majority of applied general qualifications like BTECs will make it harder for many young people to access higher education and harder for many employers to access the skills they need. Ministers must protect student choice and guarantee that applied general qualifications have a major role to play in the future”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Scrapping applied generals will pull the rug from under the feet of the 200,000 young people who benefit each year from taking these proven and established qualifications which provide a great pathway to university courses, training and careers. It is a hugely unnecessary risk which will hit disadvantaged youngsters hardest.”

Ian Pretty, Chief Executive of the Collab Group said: “Collab Group supports the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign. Applied general qualifications are central to the qualifications eco-system and ensuring students have a range of progression options is important to levelling up and delivering real social mobility.”

Professor Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) said: “Over a quarter of students from low participation neighbourhoods entering higher education have taken a BTEC qualification. Defunding these qualifications could set back access to higher education and social mobility a decade or more.” 

Vanessa Wilson, CEO of the University Alliance said: "As the voice of professional and technical universities, we urge the government to protect student choice and flexibility by continuing to fund a range of applied general qualifications, which are a valuable pathway for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access vocational and technical degrees."

Notes

  1. The joint statement can be found here and more information about the accompanying #ProtectStudentChoice campaign can be found here
  2. The eleven organisations that have issued today’s joint statement are: Association of School and College Leaders, Collab Group, 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 proposals are set out in the Review of Post-16 Qualifications at level 3: Second stage The ministerial foreword states that: “T Levels and A levels should be the programmes of choice for 16 to 19 year olds taking level 3 qualifications”. It is proposed that funding will start to be removed for other qualifications “that do not have a place in the new 16 to 19 landscape” from September 2023 (for technical qualifications) and September 2024 (for academic qualifications). 
  4. The most recent data for participation in education, training and employment in England (end of 2018) shows that 855,500 16 to 18 years are studying at Level 3. The majority (57%) are studying A levels, 16% are studying applied general qualifications (in some cases alongside A levels) and 4% are studying technical qualifications. Because of recent changes to Department for Education performance tables, 23% 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 27% of 16 to 18 year olds studying a Level 3 qualification in England are pursuing an applied general qualification – 230,985 young people.   
  5. For more information, please contact James Kewin at the Sixth Form Colleges Association: 07887 990120 james.kewin@sixthformcolleges.org
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