Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the Edge Foundation was writing about ‘the rise of the BTEC’ and how this qualification was gaining currency amongst universities on a par with A-levels.

Students are increasingly favouring a BTEC instead of or alongside A-levels, especially in subjects such as engineering.

However, if you read the headlines in several education media outlets last week, you might think I should now be heralding ‘the demise of the BTEC’.

The Department for Education has launched the first part of a two-stage consultation on the future of over 12,000 vocational qualifications at level 3 and below.

TES ran the headline, ‘BTECs in the last-chance saloon’ suggesting that BTECs are being edged out to make way for the new, shiny T-levels.

I couldn’t help but see the irony when leafing through the recruitment section of the publication, to find an advertisement placed by a 6th form college in Manchester for a teacher to teach A-level physics and BTEC science.

The tag line offered ‘an opportunity to be a catalyst for social change’; I wondered if they had read my previous article on BTECs.

With a plethora of qualifications, a range of acronyms baffling to both parents and employers and a sometimes rather questionable guarantee of quality, the rationale for taking a Marie Kondo approach to streamlining post-16 education is an appealing one.

My fear is that in a bid to make the system simpler, we close down options for young people by resting on the assumption that we can fit all students into one neat box or another; or rather into one neat route or another.

My misgivings about this consultation are two-fold:

1. Do "Gold Standard" qualifications meet the needs of education in the 21st century?

To qualify for public funding, qualifications must meet key criteria on ‘quality, purpose, necessity and progression.’ While I have little argument with skills minister Anne Milton’s new mantra in principle, I think we do need to be clear what these words mean.

A-levels, T-levels and apprenticeships are excluded from the consultation because they are, like GCSEs, considered to be ‘gold-standard’. Presumably then, GCSEs tick the ‘quality, purpose, necessity and progression’ boxes.

In February, Edge hosted the chair of the Education Select Committee, Rob Halfon, at an event in London, where he called for GCSEs to be abandoned, precisely because they do not meet the needs of education in the 21st century.

Heavy on content and reliant on rote-learning with a focus on achieving grades rather than developing skills, these qualifications belong back in the first industrial revolution, not the fourth. I would suggest that they fail in terms of ‘purpose, necessity and progression’. Is this the ‘gold standard’ that BTECs are to be measured against?

2. Have we learned nothing from the marketisation of higher education?

My second concern is with the other cornerstone of the consultation, to withhold public funding for qualifications that over-lap with A-levels and T-levels.

Damien Hinds says the government cannot, "legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes… But we can improve the quality of the options out there and by raising quality, more students and parents will trust these routes."

His statement immediately establishes a binary position between A-levels and T-levels, assumes a disparity of value and automatically ascribes a greater value to the former.

Perhaps not surprisingly for this government, the remedy is to ‘improve’ the product to give it more appeal and greater volume of consumption will confer greater status. Have we learned nothing from the marketisation of higher education?

BTECs are an already trusted route

Students and parents already trust ‘these routes’. Over 200,000 students studied for a BTEC last year. Unlike GCSEs, at their best BTECs provide an opportunity to acquire subject knowledge, the skills to apply it and relevant experience.

T-levels remain untested and subject to apprehension, not least from employers. It’s still not clear how much flexibility there will be between the A-level route and the T-level route or whether T-levels will translate into UCAS points as BTECs do now.

As the new season is upon us, I’m all for spring-cleaning our outdated qualifications cupboard, but we should be looking across the whole landscape, including GCSEs.

Our scrutiny should be focused on which qualifications offer the greatest breadth of opportunity, flexibility and which best prepare young people for careers in the 21st century workplace.

The point of de-cluttering is not just that you jettison the broken and the defunct, but that you keep, preserve and care for the things which remain relevant and work best.

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel shared a video in channel. 3 hours 43 minutes ago

Digifest 2021 expo orientation

Get a first look at the Digifest 2021 expo area, as well as useful information on how to move around and explore the interactive elements.

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 3 hours 44 minutes ago

RT @FENews: The three things Rishi Sunak needs to address in his March Budget: Senior IFS Research Economist Jonathan Cribb looks at the Ch…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page