The Skills Bill is currently completing its progress through Parliament where some of the most vocal opponents to the proposals to defund BTECs have been members of the House of Lords – in particular former Secretaries of State for Education, Ken Baker, the instigator of the National Curriculum under Mrs Thatcher, but now a campaigner for improved technical education, and David Blunkett, responsible for overseeing many of New Labour’s education reform. Also opposing the changes was David Willetts who served as universities minister under Cameron.
Blunkett and Baker have complained that the defunding proposals have been introduced ‘on the sly’ – hidden as ‘secondary legislation’ within the wider Bill, therefore making the funding changes difficult to debate.
But government has rolled back their Lordships attempts to secure the status of BTECS and other Level 3 technical/vocation qualifications, the contents of which may overlap with the T-levels. At the Commons Committee stage (before the legislation went for its final reading), while Labour MP’s cited the role that the BTECs had played in providing alternative opportunities for entering higher education, Tory members toed the government line, supporting what is effectively the introduction of a binary model of post-16 education, where young people opt for either A-levels or the Ts.
Rather than accepting the Lord’s fall back proposals to delay the funding cull for up to four years while T-levels were properly bedded in, instead new Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi made a Commons statement explaining that the introduction of the various T-levels would be extended by a year, thus maintaining BTEC current funding till the end of 2024.
But Zahawi also commented that ‘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’. Only time will tell what he means by this. At an earlier stage of consultation, the government promised to keep the decommissioning of technical qualifications ‘under review’. The future of the T levels is certainly not assured!