From education to employment

Valuing Level 3 BTECs for 16-18 Year Olds Studying Health and Social Care

Elena Wilson, Policy Manager – The Edge Foundation

The Value of Adult Social Care

Oonagh Smyth, the Chief Executive of Skills for Care, rightly says:

“Social care is a fundamental infrastructure in our communities. It allows people in our families, our friends and our communities to be supported to live the lives they choose.”

Social care is a high value, high skilled profession and provides important physical, emotional and social support to help people live their lives. However, the adult social care sector also faces pressure from significant skills shortages and ongoing recruitment challenges, which have been exacerbated through the pandemic.

The Current State of Adult Social Care


Figures from this year’s State of adult social care sector and workforce in England report reveal that 6.8% of roles in adult social care were vacant in 2020/21, an equivalent to 105,000 vacancies being advertised on an average day. This builds on trends from previous years where the vacancy rate has been persistently high. The UK is experiencing a gap between the knowledge and skills required for our economy. In social care, the lack of a skilled workforce is contributing to the creation of ‘care deserts’ with 1.4 million older people already not getting the care they need (Incisive Health and Age UK, 2019).

Low Pay

Additionally, low pay in the sector contributes to the high number of care workers leaving the profession each year. Many care workers are working at minimum wage for a job that is both physically and emotionally demanding.

An Aging Workforce

We must also consider demographic changes. 27% of adult social care workers are aged 55 and over, equating to around 425,000 jobs (Skills for Care, 2021) These workers will retire within the next ten years, so we must ensure that there is a pipeline of talent to fill this.

Growing Employment Demand

We are seeing changes in England’s demographic profile with the number of younger adults with care needs growing quickly. Figures also estimate that the population aged over 65 in England may increase from 10.5 million to 13.8million between 2020 and 2035 (POPPI). To match this, we will need to see an increase of 29% (490,000 extra jobs) in the social care workforce by 2035 (Skills for Care, 2021).

Immigration Policy

In January 2021, the UK adopted a points-based immigration system, which combined with EU Exit could impact the availability of skilled labour from overseas. This is particularly concerning as 18.4% of the adult social care workforce were born outside the UK, and among foreign-born workers, 72% were born outside of the EU (Independent Age, 2015).

(6) At the time of writing, ‘care worker’ isn’t listed as an eligible occupation on the eligible Shortage Occupation List (SOL). This is of concern and the Cavendish Coalition is working hard to campaign for care workers to be included. If not, a shortage of care workers may exacerbate the current workforce crisis (Skills for Care, 2021).

Impact of Post-16 Education and Skills Policies

Apprenticeship Starts

Recent years have seen a stark decline in the number of people starting a social care apprenticeship; in 2019/20 around 29,900 people started a social care apprenticeship, which was 26% less than in the previous year. This is likely due to the transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. (Skills for Care, 2021).

Level 3 BTECs for 16-18 Year Olds

At the same time, under the Government’s current review of post 16 Level 3 qualifications, the Department for Education is planning to introduce a streamlined Level 3 landscape with a twin-track system of A Levels and T Levels, which is likely to result in the defunding of many Applied General Qualifications such as BTECs.

However, the current BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care offers an important route for a career in adult social care. Meanwhile, the T Level in Health Care only just started in 2021 and we are yet to see the evidence for its labour market value. We are working closely with the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign to highlight the important role of BTECs, which are understood and valued by employers and act as a progression pathway to further studies and training. Despite the DfE announcing that they will now push back the defunding of Level 3 qualifications from 2023 to 2024, we must go further to reverse these plans and avoid the defunding of valuable applied general qualifications, which offer an important route alongside T Levels and A Levels, and an opportunity to blend technical and academic subjects.

Recommendation 1

Rather than framing social care as a challenging sector, we must highlight the opportunities and career paths available. This is even more important, given the pressing need for more social care workers as highlighted previously. While other sectors are shrinking due to automation, human skills (such as empathy and communication) will still be needed within social care and campaigns such as the ‘Every Day is Different’ campaign aims to raise the profile of social care, which offers a range of rich and rewarding career opportunities. However, to attract and retain talent, these campaigns must be supported by good pay and working conditions.

Recommendation 2

Rather than restricting choice, learners should be made aware of the broad options available to progress into and within adult social care. This includes offering BTECs (which provide the opportunity to combine academic and vocational education), as well as A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships.

Recommendation 3

As the UK shifts to a points-based immigration system and adapts to life outside of the EU, we must increase home-grown talent and develop the skills our economy needs in sectors such as social care, health, and hospitality. The National Skills Fund must prioritise areas of skills shortages that need this most, and ensure that there are opportunities to both upskill and reskill at all levels. This must be understood as an investment in both the sector and in individuals, rather than an expenditure.

Elena Wilson, The Edge Foundation

Reforming Adult Social Care – Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England

The Campaign for Learning’s report, Reforming Adult Social Care: Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England, is based on seventeen contributions from experts in both the adult social care sector and the post-16 education, skills and employability sectors. 

Three themes are common to most of the authors’ contributions – the scale of the adult social care sector in England, the complexity of policy making for the sector, and the need for greater integration of funding, pay, employment and skills. 

Part One: The Adult Social Care Sector

Part Two: Strategic Reforms to Adult Social Care

Part Three: Recruitment in the Context of a Skills-Based Immigration Policy

  • Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies: Improving Pay and Job Quality in Adult Social Care
  • Karolina Gerlich, The Care Workers’ Charity: Encouraging Young People and Adults to become Adult Care Workers
  • Chris Goulden, Youth Futures Foundation: A Career in Adult Social Care: The Views of Young People
  • Andrew Morton, ERSA: Targeting Active Labour Market Policies to Fill Adult Social Care Vacancies

Part Four: The Delivery and Design of Social Care Qualifications

Part Five: The Role of Post-16 Education and Skills Policies

  • Elena Wilson, The Edge Foundation: Valuing Level 3 BTECs for 16-18 Year Olds Studying Health and Social Care
  • Julian Gravatt, AoC: What Post-16 FE Can and Cannot do to tackle the Adult Social Care crisis
  • Jane Hickie, AELP: Reforming Apprenticeship Funding and Delivery for Adult Social Care
  • Gemma Gathercole, CWLEP: Adults Skills, Adult Social Care and Devo-Deals

Part Six: Adult Learning and Adult Social Care

  • Susan Pember, HOLEX: The Wider Benefits of Adult Learning for Adult Social Care
  • Simon Parkinson, WEA: Adult Learning for Adults in Social Care
  • Campaign for Learning: Proposals for reform in England 

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