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Heads call for 12-month delay to ‘reckless’ defund BTECs plan

Influential trust leaders including from Ark, Harris and Co-Op warn move would be 'disastrous for social mobility and economic growth'

Influential trust leaders including from Ark, Harris and Co-Op warn move would be 'disastrous for social mobility and economic growth'

Hundreds of school and college leaders are pleading with ministers to delay their “reckless” plan to scrap most BTECs and other applied general qualifications by 12 months.

In a letter to education secretary Gillian Keegan, 360 headteachers and principals warn that without the postponement they will not have sufficient time to ensure that “students are on the right courses, or the right staff are in place with the right level of training”.

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 from 2025.

Alternative applied general qualifications (AGQs), like Pearson’s popular BTECs, will only continue to be funded if they do not overlap with T Levels or A-levels and pass a strict new approvals process.

But sister title FE Week revealed last month that of the 134 AGQs included in the DfE’s performance league tables, which were reformed in 2016, more than half have been excluded from this process by government edict.

The qualifications account for almost two-thirds of current sixth-form college students and almost a third of courses available in general FE colleges.

Today’s letter to Keegan, co-ordinated by the Protect Student Choice campaign, states that removing such a significant proportion of AGQs will have a “hugely negative impact on many of our students”, adding that this “would be disastrous for social mobility and economic growth”.

The DfE plans to publish a list of new courses that will replace the current suite of AGQs in July 2024, for schools and colleges to start delivering in September 2025.

Leaders have told Keegan that this plan is “simply not credible” and urged the education secretary to introduce the new qualifications in September 2026 instead.

Leaders from influential trusts including Ark, Harris Federation and Co-Op Academies Trust have signed the letter.

Schools and colleges that signed the letter point out that prospectuses and marketing materials for courses starting in September 2025 will already have been finalised by July 2024, and engagement work with students will be well underway.

They go on to write that “it will be very difficult to provide effective information, advice and guidance to young people if we do not know what qualifications we can deliver until the end of July 2024”.

Leaders have reiterated the call of several Lords for the DfE to remove the 134 reformed AGQs from the scope of the department’s defunding review.

But if ministers decide to continue with the proposals, leaders have pressed that a change of timing would at least “minimise the disruption to young people’s education caused by implementing this policy”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was “dismayed by the government’s plan to scrap lots of hugely popular BTECs and similar qualifications” with a timescale that “lacks any understanding of how the education system actually works”.

Lucy Heller, chief executive of Ark Schools, said that compressing the time frame for the implementation of this policy “does not serve schools and colleges well but, most importantly, it short-changes our young people who have already suffered so much disruption to their education”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, added: “The fact that BTEC students are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds makes the government’s strategy, and the timeline for implementing it, detrimental to both society and the economy.”

The DfE said its reforms “will simplify the system for young people. Students will continue to be able to study BTECs and other applied general qualifications where they meet new quality criteria and support young people to progress. 

“The BTECs that will no longer be available are only those with low take up, poor outcomes, or which overlap with T Levels. We have also introduced a transition year to support students who may have taken BTECs, into T Level qualifications. 

“We are committed to creating a world class education system that provides a ladder up for all and gives young people the skills and knowledge to prepare them for higher education and the world of work.”

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