From education to employment

Reforms of post-16 qualifications threaten racial equity in education

Reforms of post-16 qualifications in England threaten critical routes to HE and quality jobs for learners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, warns The Black Leadership Group (BLG). BLG director Amarjit Basi says the overhaul “undermines racial equity in education” and urges the Government to think again.

Reforms of Level 3 (post-16) qualifications unveiled by the Government threaten essential pathways to higher education for learners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

I am a director of the Black Leadership Group (BLG), which was formed to challenge systemic racism in F/HE, schools, public, voluntary and private sectors, and we have been dismayed by the plans to defund many applied general courses, such as BTEC Diplomas.


The Department for Education (DfE) will next year publish a list of new qualifications, including T-Levels, to replace the current range of applied general qualifications. The defunding would come into effect in autumn 2025 and see support withdrawn for a whole swathe of post-GCSE qualifications in England.

BAME students will be among the groups most disadvantaged by the changes because a disproportionately high number of them currently take applied generally courses as a route to university. More than a third (37%) of black students enter university with only BTEC qualifications compared to around one fifth (22%) of students overall, research has shown.

How will this affect BAME students

The plans will not only squeeze access to qualifications post-GCSE but also access to opportunities for progression through higher education that evolve from that. Research shows that students from BAME backgrounds are currently more likely to apply to university than their white counterparts. We also know that BAME students were under-represented on the first generation of the new T-Level qualification.

They are also more likely to use BTECs to gain access to vocational undergraduate programmes, which provide the prospect of them being able to secure a good job leading to a fruitful career. The Government reforms for England would effectively chop away the access ladder to higher education and sustainable employment for a disproportionately high number of BAME students.

Let’s be clear here: this is not about BAME students losing out because the bar is being raised in post-16 qualifications. After GCSEs, we already know that BAME students invariably outperform their counterparts at the age of sixteen. Rather, this is about ensuring highly popular routes to higher education and fulfilling careers for these students are supported.

What should the government be doing?

Ministers should be pitching the new, academically rigorous T-Levels against A-Levels, not applied general courses, such as BTECs.

The Government’s impact assessments of the reforms are wide of the mark, in our view, so we are urging the Secretary of State for Education to halt the plans and instead carry out more research into how post-16 education can be improved for every single student.

The Government’s reforms, as they stand, threaten to undermine racial equity in education so the DfE must think again.

By Amarjit Basi, Director, Black Leadership Group

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