Ministers must delay their controversial planned bonfire of BTECs and other technical qualifications until there is evidence T-levels are a “more effective” replacement, a committee of MPs has warned.
The parliamentary education committee has called for a moratorium on the government’s plan to defund a raft of applied general qualifications (AGQs), warning a “clear track record” of T-level success should be a “prerequisite” to their scrapping.
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 AGQs, such as 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But today MPs warned “tried and tested applied” general qualifications should only be withdrawn when there was robust evidence proving T-levels were more effective in preparing students for “progression, meeting industry needs and promoting social mobility”.
The ability of businesses to offer “sufficient, high-quality industry placements”, and a “clear track record” of T-level success, as well as evidenced improvement in equalities outcomes, “should be prerequisites to scrapping further applied general qualifications on the basis of overlap”.
Ex-minister distances himself from reforms
Robin Walker, a former schools minister who now chairs the committee, said: “We have concerns about the feasibility of scaling up T-levels, and, as it stands, the planned withdrawal of AGQs will constrict student choice and could deepen the skills shortages that these reforms are meant to fix.”
In an interview with Schools Week, Walker also distanced himself from the reforms, which were developed during his time at the Department for Education.
He was “very much focused at the time on writing a white paper for the schools system”.
“It wasn’t something I was intensively involved in in the way that might have otherwise been the case. As schools minister, I would have been briefed on the outcomes of those discussions rather than engaged in them.”
The DfE’s own equalities impact assessment found students with SEND, from Asian ethnic groups and from disadvantaged backgrounds were “likely to be particularly affected by the reforms” – as were male students.
Much of the concern about the reforms centres around difficulties in getting the T-level programme off the ground.
Fears T-levels the preserve of ‘academically gifted’
MPs found “uncertainty” around progression and whether the qualifications could be taken alongside A-levels, unequal regional access to industry placements and a lack of awareness.
They also did not think there was yet “the right balance of rigour and accessibility”.
“Early evidence indicates that schools and colleges are setting high entry requirements, and we heard that, as a result, T-levels could be restricted to a small pool of academically gifted students who have a specific employment goal in mind by age 16.”
Among the other recommendations was a call for an independent expert panel to look at the possibility of adopting a post-16 baccalaureate model in England.
MPs also called for a “wholesale review” of 16 to 19 funding, including more targeted support for disadvantaged students.
The committee warned of the challenges that faced the government’s “ambition” that all pupils study some form of maths to 18, including recruitment and retention of teachers.
The DfE was approached for comment.