Friday 30th July, 2021

The Department for Education intends to remove funding for most applied qualifications such as BTecs from 2022 and to abolish them by 2023. It is hard to find anybody in education who thinks this is a good idea. The proposal has been opposed by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Grammar School Heads Association, the former Conservative education secretary Kenneth Baker, and 12 organisations representing schools, colleges and universities who wrote to the education secretary yesterday urging him to rethink.

Even Ofsted has raised concerns about learner choice being adversely narrowed and a risk that a barrier to student progress may be created.  There is a petition opposing this proposal that can be signed here.  It would be nice to think that the education secretary and the DfE will not ignore the significant concerns raised across the sector.

Scrapping BTecs and applied qualifications will leave students with fewer alternatives to A-levels and will narrow learner choice. 260,000 students in England take BTecs and other applied qualifications, and 470,000 students take A-levels. A-levels are not suited to all students, and BTecs provide an excellent alternative to or complement for A-levels.

BTecs are recognised by over 95% of universities as equivalent to A-levels, including Russell Group universities.  At our school we offer 26 A-levels, 2 BTecs in Health and Social Care and Performing and Production Arts, 1 applied course in Applied General Business, 1 Pre-U course in Mandarin, and the EPQ.  Our sixth form students pick the right mix of subjects and qualifications for them.

BTecs and applied courses are also viewed as helping social mobility.  44% of white working class students who go onto university study at least one BTec.  37% of black students access higher education with only BTecs.  In this respect, scrapping applied general qualifications such as BTecs does risk harming social mobility.  The Department for Education’s own impact assessment concluded that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose if applied general qualifications are defunded.

Instead of applied general qualifications such as BTecs, the DfE wants a binary system of A-levels and T-levels.  T-levels courses were launched last year and currently there are 1,700 pupils enrolled.  They are designed to be a single two-year course focused on a specific career such as accounting, catering, or hair, beauty and aesthetics.  One T-level is equivalent to 3 A-levels. 

BTecs provide far greater flexibility than T-levels because a student can study a range of subjects and a mix of applied courses and A Levels as opposed to deciding at 16 which one single T-level route they wish to go down. How many of us aged 16 know which career we wish to follow? As an addition to the post-16 offer T-levels may be fine, but as a replacement for most all vocational and technical qualifications they are not offering enough choice or enough flexibility for learners.

One further risk of removing funding for BTecs and applied courses is that students who don’t wish to study 3 A-levels, or for whom that route simply isn’t right/best, will instead drop out of full-time education altogether.  Kenneth Baker yesterday described the proposal as “an act of vandalism”. There is a petition opposing this proposal that can be signed here

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