The DfE has published the results of the latest ‘consultation’ on its proposals for Level 3 post-16 qualifications.
In reality this has been a limited exercise. Academic qualifications were always going to remain in their current form, with A-levels continuing to be the main route into HE. But the government has already decided that T-levels are ‘the right choice for most 16-19 year olds who want to progress to into skilled employment or onto higher levels of technical education’ and has signaled that it will ‘not be making any changes’.
So the specific intention of this second (and final) consultation was to seek views on government plans to only fund additional technical qualifications if they provide proven additional and specific employment skills and secondly but more significantly, the intention to discontinue funding qualifications that overlapped with the content of the Ts. Many fear for the future of the popular BTECs that have continued to be available to thousands of students across the post-16 sector.
While a clear majority of those responding still need to be convinced about the government’s first set of intentions, there were huge majorities, approaching 90%, against the scrapping of other vocational courses. Respondents also sent a clear message that students should be able to mix academic and technical qualifications in the way that BTECs allow (up to 30% of UCAS applicants do this) but which T-levels prevent.
In response, rather than risk an humiliating climb-down the government has instead stated that the future of other qualifications will be reviewed as new waves of T-levels are introduced between now and 2024. In the meantime, schools, colleges and even some universities will continue to lobby for the continuation of BTECs.
Despite government intentions, BTEC’s future will depend on whether the roll out of the T’s takes place in line with what has been planned. Originally intended to be in delivered in FE colleges, ‘high performing’ schools are now being encouraged to tender; but few school sixth-forms (where over a third of the student cohort is enrolled), will have the infrastructure to deliver more than one. There are serious funding and other resource issues still to be resolved. Most educational professionals (over 1 in 8) remain unconvinced about the government’s qualifications reform.
The main issue may continue be to be the lack of legitimacy of any new vocational qualifications. New Labour’s Special Diplomas claimed to have had extensive employer involvement in their design but it was never clear how many individual employers positively endorsed them. With low student uptake, they had already become an expensive white elephant by the time they were abolished by Michael Gove in his first week of office. It is likely that those students who can, will continue to enroll for A-levels and not see T-levels, regardless of whether they carry UCAS points, as serious alternatives.