The government is considering withdrawing funding for BTECs and other qualifications that “overlap” with A-levels, Damian Hinds has announced.
The education secretary has today launched a review of vocational qualifications at level 3 and below, including applied general qualifications, tech levels and technical certificates. Academic qualifications like A-levels and GCSEs will not be reviewed.
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
Ministers are said to be concerned about qualifications that “do not provide the same high-quality education” as A-levels and new T-Levels, their technical equivalent. The government claims the existence of more than 12,000 qualifications leaves young people and employers “confused” about what they mean.
“We have made huge progress to boost the quality of education and training on offer for young people,” Hinds said today.
“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.”
Last year, exams regulator Ofqual ordered exam boards to strengthen their controls on certain types of applied general qualifications, after evidence was uncovered of grade inflation on old-style BTECs.
The regulator has also warned of “confusion” between legacy BTECs – which don’t feature any external assessment – and new versions of the qualifications. Sally Collier, the chief regulator, told MPs last week that outcomes for reformed BTECs would be under scrutiny.
The government’s consultation asks whether it should only provide public funding for qualifications “that meet key criteria on quality, purpose, necessity and progression”, and whether funding should be withdrawn for qualifications that overlap with A-levels or T-levels.
“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,” said Hinds.
But Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, warned against changes to BTECs and other applied generals.
“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 young people develop a vitally important set of skills that are highly valued in universities and the workplace.”
Watkin pointed out that such courses are “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.”