DfE consults on scrapping quals competing with A-Levels by 2023


The government has moved a step closer to removing funding for applied general qualifications, such as BTECs, that compete with T Levels and A-levels by autumn 2023.

The Department for Education will today launch the second stage of its consultation on the future of vocational and technical qualifications at level 3 and below, which will run for 12 weeks.

The DfE claims there is currently a “confusing landscape” of over 12,000 courses on offer to young people at level 3 and below, with multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available – many of which are “poor quality and offer little value to students or employers”.

Today’s consultation will set out “detailed measures” that the education secretary Gavin Williamson will tackle this, including removing funding for the “majority” of qualifications that “overlap” with A-levels and T Levels by 2023.

It will also include plans to open T Levels up to adults from 2023, as reported by FE Week earlier this month.

Williamson said the measures will “ensure that whether a student opts to study A-levels, a T Level or any other qualification, they can be confident that it will be high quality and will set them on a clear path to a job, further education or training”.

A briefing document, seen by Schools Week ahead of the consultation launch, shows that for 16-to-19-year-olds, the DfE will propose to fund two groups of level 3 technical qualifications alongside T Levels.

The first will be qualifications that “give people the knowledge, skills and behaviours described in an employer-led standard that is not covered by a T Level”.

The second will be “additional specialist” qualifications that develop “more specialist skills and knowledge than could be acquired through a T Level alone” such as a course in marine engineering, which “builds on the technical qualifications in the maintenance, installation and repair T Level”.

The DfE will also propose to approve for funding two groups of “small academic qualifications” to be taken alongside, or as an alternative to, A-levels where there is a “clear need for skills and knowledge that A-levels alone cannot deliver”.

The first group includes qualifications that would “complement A-levels, for example, if they have more of a practical component, such as health and social care or engineering”. It will also include those that are designed to “enable progression to more specialist HE courses”, such as arts institutions.

The second group will be a “specific, limited group of well-recognised, small qualifications that develop wider skills to support study at higher education, such as core maths, performing arts graded qualifications and extended project qualifications”.

The DfE also plans to fund “large” qualifications that would “typically make up a student’s full programme of study and could be taken as an alternative to A-levels if they give access to specialist HE courses, such as those with high levels of practical content”. Examples might include sports or performing arts courses. The International Baccalaureate diploma will also continue to be funded.

For those aged 19 and over, the DfE says they will “generally need greater flexibility than 16-to-19-year-olds and will also tend to have greater prior experience”. So the department’s starting point for adults is that they “have available to them a similar offer as 16-to-19-year-olds but with some additional technical qualifications to meet their needs and more flexibility built into the design”.

The DfE will also propose three “key principles” for level 3 technical qualifications for adults: “Modular delivery of content; recognition of prior learning and experience; and assessing a student’s competence at the end of a course.”

The level 3 and below review includes applied generals, tech levels and technical certificates. While these cover a wide range of courses, BTECs, awarded by Pearson, are the most popular.

The DfE said it will also shortly publish a call for evidence inviting views on qualifications at level 2 and below, including basic skills qualifications (English, maths, ESOL and digital), to find out “what is working well”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said there is a “place for both T Levels and applied generals” to “happily and usefully coexist”.

He warned that to remove “too many” applied generals would “significantly impoverish the curriculum, damage social mobility and do nothing to reduce the skills gap”.

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  1. Janet Downs

    It appears that Levels 1 and 2 courses, those which are taken by 40% of the sixteen-year-olds that don’t achieve a GCSE grade 4, are an afterthought. Time to move to graduation at 18 via multiple routes.

  2. Neil Spurgeon

    So, once again,(GNVQs, modern apprenticeships, Vocational A Levels, etc ad nausium) a new, untried, completely academic load of old cobblers is going to supplant the tried, proven, employer loved and parentally approved BTECs which, quietly and seamlessly have been giving trainee tradespeople the underpinning skills and knowledge that an old apprenticeship, augmented by technical college trade teaching produced, namely the preparation needed to take up a trade.

    For God’s sake, we have had a perfectly working system since Christ was a Corporal, just butt out of vocational training and leave the professional employers, who know exactly what they need and want, to take their college trained BTEC qualified lads and lasses and set them to work.

    Just get ALL politicians right out of vocational training, they just don’t have a clue because in their world, if it ain’t an A Level, it don’t count. Well you middle class idiots, BTECs are NOT A Levels, they are better, more useful, and actually do the job your damn dream qualifications can never match, they get kids jobs,

    The reason we have a plethora of other, less helpful qualifications is simply because politicians endlessly tinker with a world they neither understand nor subscribe to, the world of the Technical Training College, in other words Further Education, VERY VERY VERY different from either sixth form OR university, a world rooted in real world, hands on, horny handed working experience, actually making and mending stuff.

    You know;
    that dirty word TRADE, and that other ‘offensive in Islington’ term, CRAFT.

    • Neil, its great that you think that btecs are the “best” and that everyone should learn a trade, yada yada, but many people do not want a manual job.

      Thus some want to go to uni and then get a job, but others want to get into the job market straight after Sixth form. You can’t expect everyone to conform to what you think they should do.

      Btecs and A levels achieve very different things so determining which one is better is just a matter of preference.

    • Neil, its great that you think that btecs are the “best” and that everyone should learn a trade, yada yada, but many people do not want a manual job.

      Thus some want to go to uni and then get a job, but others want to get into the job market straight after Sixth form. You can’t expect everyone to conform to what you think they should do.

      Btecs and A levels achieve very different things so determining which one is better is just a matter of preference.

  3. Laura Kitto

    Not everyone is cut out for A-levels, this is also impacted by sixth form entry criteria. My son wanted to study A-level Physics but the school withdrew the course! So, he’s now studying level 3 BTEC extended diploma in Applied Science which is equivalent to 3 A-levels. He is flourushing in the college environment & we hope he achieves his aim of going to university to study Physics & Astrophysics.

    By withdrawing such qualification options the Government are further trying to push all students in to 1 system. A system that won’t meet the needs of all it’s learners. The Government will not be meeting the ‘Every Child Matters’ or ‘Reaching Their Full Potential’ agendas that they’ve been preaching about for years.

    By abolishing such learning options the Government is widening the gap between learners!

    Let learners still have the option of their preferred course of study and chosen life path!

    • chris

      I agree with you. there should be a variety of different qualifications to suit different young people. I also think that A levels should not be seen as better , or BTECHS worse. However the difficulty I have experienced is that some FE colleges have very poor teaching in BTECHS and it is this which lowers the reputation. some 6th forms offer BTECHs but this excludes over 16’s. its about time they put more thorough scrutiny on colleges to increase their standards of teaching and hours of teaching. As sadly my experience is that many FE colleges give less hours quality teaching and leave students to get on with it on their own which then makes the learning discipline and writing standards lower.

  4. Lisa Passmore

    Well said Neil. Not every child wants to take on A Levels. My son already knows what career he wants and A Levels were pointless in his pursuit of this. His GCSE grades were fabulous and he is quite capable of doing A Levels but just wasn’t interested. Btecs etc provided skills and experience that A Levels certainly do not. Leave well alone if it’s working don’t change the system.

  5. This constant tinkering does not happen in other countries. Tomlinson report and Diploma 14-19 anyone ? I taught numerous variations of construction pre 16 over the year as they were continuously changed . I have whole units of work that I have designed that are consigned to my hard drive as the next incarnation rendered them useless. Will the T levels settle down for a number of years say a decade or will they be re evaluated and changed sooner?

  6. Krissy Sommerville

    In education we fix things even when they are not broken just to tick boxes. If any other sectors did this they would constantly be in chaos. Technical education should go hand in hand with the needs of the relevant industries not what we think looks good on paper. In management, change usually leads to a period of “storming” before we get to a phase where new norms are developed so the business can move forward. In education we seem to always in the “storming” phase and as soon as we approach a somewhat norm there comes another storm.

  7. T-Levels require a minimum of 45 days work experience plus English and Maths to complete the course. What happens when the students don’t get the English or Maths = they fail the course, so a practical student who could be great at manufacturing something and provide a real asset to a business might not get the chance because they could not complete one of these parts…. so…. as a teacher I may suggest they do a BTEC… oh wait… they will get cancelled. So the kid does a T Level and fails!! A great start in life! Never mind trying to get all of the businesses in the current climate to take them on as work experience, min of 45 days so more likely 60 days so they have some possible sick days etc…