From education to employment

Calling on our MPs to protect student choice

Alice Barnard is Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation

Earlier this year, the government unveiled their plan to defund 160 level 3 qualifications, including 38 BTECs, by 2024. These qualifications are set to be axed as they are deemed to overlap with the roll-out of T Levels.

The prospect of defunding these qualifications is deeply concerning. Out of the 662,000 students aged 16-19 who are currently on vocational courses, 66,000 are enrolled on the 160 qualifications set to be axed. 1 in 10 enrolments will be impacted by these decisions. These statistics worsen as we consider that 27% of students on BTEC qualifications are the “most disadvantaged” in the system.

Among the qualifications set to be disbanded, is the BTEC diploma in Health and Social Care. Not only is this qualification “enormously popular and well respected by universities and employers” but the Health and Social Care sector continues to be threatened by growing skills shortages and high staff turn-over. How can we justify this decision when, this year, there were 1,300 T Level placements, making up less than 2% of the total volume of learners. The UK also facing a growing skills gap, with skills shortages costing the UK economy a record £6.6 billion a year. We need more options for high-quality learning and skills development, not less.

The introduction of the T Level programme has been a significant step forward in terms of providing students with a substantive course option in their area of interest. However, it must be noted that T Levels and standalone vocational qualifications do very different jobs. Currently, students are able to take a blend of A Level, BTEC and/or equivalent courses to support their learning. Whereas one T Level equates to three A Levels. At the age of 15, those who choose to follow a vocational or technical route will be forced towards a binary decision between A levels or T levels. Additionally, many careers, such as engineering, rely heavily on both academic, vocational and technical styles of learning. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, in a world of work that increasingly demands greater flexibility, why are we choosing to narrow our students’ options rather than broaden them?

For these students, Applied General Qualifications, such as BTECs, are the gateway to higher education or skilled employment. These qualifications have transformed the life chances of thousands of young people and have made huge contributions to both social mobility and local economies. Scrapping them will leave many students without a viable pathway at the age of 16 and will hamper progress to higher education or skilled employment.

The stakes are high and the time to act is now.

On Monday 18th July, there is a debate on the future of BTECS at Westminster Hall. This debate has been triggered by the #ProtectStudentChoice do not defund BTECs petition which received 108,329 signatures earlier this year.

Any MP who cares about education and maintaining opportunities for the young people of this country must attend. We need politicians brave enough to take a stand on this.

By Alice Barnard, Chief Executive, The Edge Foundation

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