From education to employment

Delay to BTECs defunding – Nadhim Zahawi has been listening and examining the evidence – Sector Response

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi - Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: Second Reading Opening Speech

FAB writes to the education secretary and MPs, welcoming rethink on quals reform

tom bewick100x100The Federation of Awarding Bodies’ chief executive, Tom Bewick, has written to Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education. The letter, dated 16th Nov, said:

“Dear Secretary of State, I’m writing to enclose the attached research briefing the Federation will be sending to all MPs and peers later this week.

“Firstly, I would like to welcome your announcement in the House of Commons on 15 November that you have decided to push back the defunding of Level 3 qualifications by one year.

“FAB has been calling for this approach since June 2020.

“This will create the space for the FE sector and your Department to work together on a more sensible roll-out of T-Levels; and to ensure that no learner or geographical part of the country loses out as a result of these ambitious reforms.

“The Federation believes that learners and communities will be best served where the qualifications landscape is allowed to evolve on the basis of innovation and informed market choice for learners. It is a model that has served the national interest well for decades; and the expertise of Awarding Organisations and exam boards are in high demand overseas.

“The international evidence is also overwhelming that world leading systems, like Germany and Switzerland, operate within highly decentralised funding and delivery arrangements. Top-down, state-led systems are far less successful. I hope that you and your ministerial team will engage with our research findings, based on official data. It shows that these reforms as currently planned will impact adversely on disadvantaged groups.

“We support the roll-out of T-Levels. But our findings indicate patchy roll out and social mobility cold-spots when it comes to ensuring the availability of quality industry work placements, in particular. Your predecessor, when launching T-Levels, made it clear that what made them “gold standard” would be the direct route into skilled employment.

“To date, your Department has published no accountability measures for these new qualifications. If other vocational and technical qualifications are to be put through a new “quality bar”, overseen by the Institute, then it is only right that government owned qualifications are held to the same standards.

“We urge therefore a pragmatic approach to implementation.

“Keep good qualifications at level 3 and below, particularly where they can evidence strong progression outcomes and routes to skilled employment. These criteria need to be published in a transparent way and open to challenge and appeal where a regulated Awarding Organisation does not feel it has been fairly treated. We do not feel it is appropriate for the Institute, with its new qualification accreditation powers set out in the Skills Bill, to be able to engage in market manipulation.

“This remains a major flaw in the legislation. I would encourage you to think about the independent regulatory role that Ofqual plays in the system and how this can be better utilised to ensure all publicly funded qualifications are placed on the same regulatory playing field. T-levels are vitally important qualifications.

“But it is warped thinking, in my view, to believe that one can make a new qualification successful by restricting learner choice and opportunities for other perfectly good qualifications. The Federation looks forward to continuing our constructive dialogue with you, your officials and the wider ministerial team.”

Delay to BTECs defunding announced

Today’s (15 Nov) announcement was made at the second reading of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill in the House of Commons.

Responding to the Education Secretary @NadhimZahawi’s speech on the first reading of the #SkillsBilll and the announcement to delay the defunding of #BTECs,

david hughes 100 x100Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said:

“Today’s announcement from the Secretary of State shows he has been listening and examining the evidence, which I am pleased about. We have consistently pointed out the risks that defunding BTECs and the English and maths requirement of T levels posed to disadvantaged students. We warned that it was too soon to be removing pathways and choices for young people when the new T levels were in their infancy and that it risked leaving learners with no accessible qualifications to study for.
“Delaying defunding gives more time for greater evaluation of T levels and how they work in the new landscape of qualifications. I want all pathways, including T levels to be a success and to be as accessible to as many students as possible. Removing the English and maths GCSE exit requirement in all T levels and the extra flexibilities on industry placements announced last week will open up these new qualifications to many more students.

“There is still a long road ahead to ensure the Skills Bill has the impact on employers, communities and people that we want to see. Today, though, is a really good step, and indication the government is listening to us, and those peers in the House of Lords who tabled and passed amendments in the House of Lords about these issues.”

Bill Watkin 100x100Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) said:

“We are pleased that the Secretary of State has responded to some of the concerns raised by the 24 organisations in the Protect Student Choice campaign and delayed the withdrawal of funding of BTECs by one year. But it is vital that the government uses this extra year to develop a transparent process for determining the future of these qualifications that involves providers, students and employers.

“Funding should not be withdrawn for any BTEC unless there is clear evidence that the qualification is not valued by students or employers. An evidence-based approach, involving those directly involved in delivery, is essential if we are to have a qualification system that works for everyone. We look forward to seeing more detail on the proposals set out in parliament tonight, and the Protect Student Choice coalition will develop a fuller response when this detail is made available”.

SFCA is co-ordinating the #ProtectStudentChoice: don’t scrap BTECs campaign, which is backed by 24 organisations that represent and support schools, colleges and universities.

Last month, 118 MPs and peers wrote to the Secretary of State for Education in support of the campaign.

NEON is one of the 24 organisations that are part of the #ProtectStudentChoice: don’t scrap BTECs campaign that believe T levels should complement, rather than replace, existing qualifications.

Dr Graeme Atherton 100x100Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), Professor Graeme Atherton, stated:

“We know from research* we conducted earlier this year that the plans to defund the majority of AGQs, including BTECs, could threaten the progress that has been made in widening access as they provide a valuable route into higher education (HE) for thousands of young people.

“Whilst we welcome the introduction of T levels, the new qualification has not been designed to support HE progression and any progress in increasing numbers of students, entering HE from the lowest participation neighbourhoods, will be lost.

“We hope the government will use the extra time to ensure that qualifications, which already provide a proven, valued route into HE, are not defunded, and replaced by qualifications that the HE sector do not believe give potential students the skills to succeed and progress to degree level programmes.”

* Atherton, G. (2021) Will abolishing BTECs mean reversing widening access to higher education? 

Speaking to the House of Commons today (15 Nov) Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, announced that plans to remove funding for most BTECs, and other applied general qualifications (AGQs), will be delayed for a year until 2024. Announcing the delay, he told parliament that T levels and A levels would be a central part of the level 3 landscape, but said he is also convinced that we need other qualifications alongside them.

An extra year before qualification reform timetable is implemented

“When it comes to both academic and technical qualifications, what we are looking for most is quality. There is no point in a student taking a low-quality level 3 qualification that doesn’t equip them with skills for a job or help them progress into higher education. And this is even more important when it comes to disadvantaged students.

“We have over 12,000 qualifications at level 3 and below. By comparison, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, widely regarded as having high performing technical education systems, have around 500 or fewer. Our qualifications review is vital in ensuring what’s on the market is the best it can be.

“I am clear that T Levels and A levels should be front and centre of the level 3 landscape.

“But I am also convinced that we need other qualifications alongside them – many of which currently exist – that play a valuable role in supporting good outcomes for students. It is quite likely we will see many BTECs and other similar applied general style qualifications continuing to play an important role in 16-19 education, for the foreseeable future

“Our reforms to the qualifications landscape are rightly ambitious, but we know that we would be wrong to push too hard and risk compromising quality. That is why I am announcing today that we have decided to allow an extra year before our reform timetable is implemented.

“This extra year will allow us to continue to work hard to support the growth of T Levels and gives more notice to providers, awarding organisations, employers, students and parents so that they can prepare for the changes. I am a firm believer in T Levels – as I have said before, I want them to become as famous as A levels – and I want to make sure we get them right. 

Removal of the English and maths exit requirement from T Levels 

“As many young people as possible should have the advantage of studying and successfully completing a T Level. We hear consistently that some students are being put off taking a T Level because they are worried that they will fail it if they do not reach level 2 in English and maths. We want to change this and bring T Levels in line with other qualifications, including A levels. 

“We are absolutely clear that English and maths should remain central to T Level programmes, but we do not want to unnecessarily inhibit talented students from accessing T Levels simply because of the additional hurdle that reaching level 2 in English and maths represents. 

“That is why I can also announce today that we will remove the English and maths exit requirement from T Levels. This will bring them in line with other qualifications, including A-Levels, and ensure talented young people with more diverse strengths are not arbitrarily shut out from rewarding careers in sectors such as construction, catering and health-care.”

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