Ministers are under fire for reneging on their promise to axe just a “small” number of BTECs and other applied general qualifications, as new analysis reveals that more than half will be scrapped by government edict.
A cross-party group of peers led by Lord Blunkett (top left) has vowed to confront education secretary Gillian Keegan on the issue.
“This, at best, is an act of considerable bad faith and, at worst, an indication that the government’s word isn’t worth the paper it was written on,” Blunkett said.
Leaders have warned the “ideologically driven” reform could cause “significant chaos”, as the plans would wipe out provision currently offered to almost two-thirds of sixth-form college students.
The Department for Education is working to introduce a streamlined system for students finishing their GCSEs that pushes them to study either A-levels, their new technical equivalent T-levels, or an apprenticeship.
Officials have already announced that 106 alternative technical level 3 courses will have their funding removed from 2024 because they “overlap” with the first few T-level courses.
Others face the chop in future years as more T-levels roll out to allow the qualifications to “flourish”.
The DfE launched the next phase of its level 3 review earlier this month, which involves a new strict approvals process that all “alternative” technical and academic applied general qualifications, such as Pearson’s popular BTECs, must pass to retain their funding.
Ministers have made ‘conscious choice’ on BTECs
But a guide published this month states that ministers have made the “conscious choice” to exclude “certain” academic qualifications from this process, either because the subject is “more suited to a technical qualification or because there is an associated A level”.
When the list of qualifications eligible for funding is mapped against the 134 recently reformed applied general qualifications currently available to young people and included in the DfE’s performance league tables, an “astonishing” 75 are found to be ineligible.
It means well-established qualifications, such as BTECs in health and social care, applied science, and law will disappear from 2025.
Experts also predict that many of the eligible courses will fail to gain approval through the new process.
The analysis, shared exclusively with Schools Week by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), shows 62 per cent of applied general students in the sector are currently enrolled on qualifications that will be scrapped before the approval process begins.
This comes despite then education secretary Nadhim Zahawi (top right) promising the sector and Parliament that “only a small proportion of the total level 3 BTEC and other applied general style qualification offer – significantly less than half” would be removed.
Government has not run ‘transparent’ process
Bill Watkin, SFCA chief executive, criticised the government for their decision not to run a “transparent and impartial approval process”.
He also criticised officials for not being clear about what evidence was used to draw up the list of subjects that will be funded in the future, describing their decisions as “indefensible and entirely unnecessary”.
Blunkett hit out at ministers for a “clear reversal of the undertakings given last year” after promising the Lords “in writing and from the despatch box that only a minority of advanced qualifications would cease to be funded”.
“This is either a mistake that can be easily rectified, or a deliberate and calculated U-turn.
“A range of peers from all parties have agreed to take this matter up with education secretary Gillian Keegan, and I feel sure that she will want to demonstrate her honesty and integrity and act accordingly.”
Toby Perkins MP, Labour’s shadow skills minister, said the government’s reassurances on level 3 choice “have been shown to be hollow”. He called on officials to “work with the sector and think again before pursuing this approach”.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Our reforms are intended to help more people to progress into work, an apprenticeship or on to further study, so it’s vital that the qualifications on offer are of the highest possible standard.
“We have already introduced T Levels as the new gold standard technical qualification and the changes we are making through our review will make sure only qualifications that are necessary, lead to good outcomes for students and meet the skills needs of businesses are approved for public funding.”