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DfE launches crackdown on post-16 courses

Consultation leaves questions over whether qualifications like BTECs and Cambridge Technicals will still be funded

Qualifications for school leavers will be reviewed, with the exception of A levels, T levels and apprenticeships

The government has announced plans to review which post-16 qualifications it funds for young people in colleges and sixth-forms.

The Department for Education has launched a two-part consultation on qualifications at level 3 and below. A levels, the new T levels and apprenticeships will be the “gold standard”, with all other qualifications, except GCSEs, in the scope of the review. These include applied generals such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals. The government says the rationalisation will help to “streamline and boost the quality of education”.

In the first stage of the consultation, the DfE will ask key stakeholders for their thoughts on only providing public funding for qualifications that meet key criteria on “quality, purpose, necessity and progression” and then not providing public funding for qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds that overlap with T levels or A levels.


Read more: 'Don't let applied generals fall by the wayside'

Background: Will T levels draw a line in the sand under BTECs?

Long read: Applied Generals in a battle to survive


Education secretary Damian Hinds said huge progress has been made by the government to boost the quality of education and training on offer for young people.

'Quality' post-16 qualifications

He added: "From 2020 we will start to roll out new T levels, which will offer young people high-quality technical courses alongside our world-class A levels. These will be the gold standard choice for young people after they take their GCSEs.

“But we also want to make sure that all options available to students are high-quality and give them the skills they need to get a great job, go on to further education or training, and employers can be confident they can access the workforce they need for the future.

“We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes post-16. But we can improve the quality of the options out there and by raising quality, more students and parents will trust these routes.”

More than 200,000 students affected

The government announced that it would carry out a review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in May 2017 as part of its response to the T0level consultation. Analysis published by the DfE today highlights that there are more than 12,000 courses on offer to young people at level 3 and below, with multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available – officials have said that many are “poor quality and offering little value to students or employers”.

Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth Form College Association, warned that popular applied general qualifications, like BTECs and Cambridge Technicals, have an important role in post-16 education and should not be dismissed outright.

He added: “Employers and universities understand and respect these qualifications, particularly in their reformed, more rigorous, format. They sit comfortably alongside A levels, helping students get into higher education and employment, and they ensure that young people develop a vitally important set of skills that are highly valued in universities and the workplace.

“And this is not a minority pursuit. More than 200,000 16- to 18-year-olds study these courses every year, often studying a combination of A levels and applied generals on a blended timetable. The government may see the introduction of T levels as the best way to address the skills gap, about which it is, quite rightly, concerned. But this should not be at the expense of applied generals – these qualifications help young people to acquire the skills that our economy and society need and we will be making the strongest possible case to ensure they have a secure future.”

Thousands of qualifications

Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), welcomed today’s announcement regarding phase one of the review of qualifications at level 3 and below.

She added: “It is crucial that there are study programmes and qualifications which meet the needs of all students as well as those of business and the economy. The review kick-starts this important conversation. AoC will be working with member colleges over the next three months to ensure a comprehensive response to the consultation.”

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said young people needed “clear, high-quality and easy to understand options at 16 – whether that’s A levels, new T levels or doing an apprenticeship”.

He added: “Each route is valued by employers, but it can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference between the thousands of qualifications and different grading systems out there. The government is absolutely right to address this by giving employers a part in shaping the reforms, ensuring qualifications relate to the modern world and give young people the skills they need to succeed.”

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