Btecs: 'Engines of social mobility' can't be scrapped

Sector leaders from 12 organisations write to education secretary Gavin Williamson to warn against defunding Btecs

Kate Parker

Btecs: 'Engines of social mobility' can't be scrapped

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has been urged to not scrap Btec qualifications.

In a letter to Mr Williamson, 12 organisations, including the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was impossible to square the government’s stated ambition to "level up" opportunity with the proposal to scrap most Btecs”.

Earlier this month, the Department for Education announced confirmed plans to defund any Btecs and other applied generals that overlap with the new T levels, with the new progression routes after GCSEs being apprenticeships, A levels and T levels. 

Need to know: Btecs that overlap with T levels to lose funding

Opinion: Why removing student options would be disastrous

More: Some 'won't get level 3' after qualifications reform

Btecs: Education secretary 'ignores concerns'

However, the announcement sparked outrage across the sector. In today’s letter, the organisations said: “It is clear from the government’s recently published response to the review that your 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. 

“These are well established, well respected qualifications that play a vital role in helping young people progress to higher education or employment, and in meeting the skills needs of employers. For many students, studying one or more applied general qualifications will be a more effective way of accessing, remaining in, and progressing from 16 to 19 education than studying A levels or T levels.” 

The letter describes applied general qualifications as “engines of social mobility” and cites research from the Social Market Foundation which found 44 per cent of white working-class students enter university with at least one Btec and 37 per cent of black students enter with only Btec qualifications. 

The organisations say a delay to the proposals would be welcome – changes are due to happen between 2023 and 2025 – but go 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”.

SFCA: Disadvantaged students have the most to lose

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.”

And 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.” 

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.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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