Education think tanks ‘welcome’ the Government’s delay to controversial reform plans to cut BTEC funding

The Department for Education confirmed earlier this year that it plans to replace most BTECs in England with two-year-long T Levels

Education reforms are to be delayed by a year after criticism over plans to cut funding for BTECs, the Government has announced.

A limited number of new T Level technical qualifications were introduced in 2020, but the Government wants to roll them out further in order to cover more subjects, and eventually replace most BTECs in England from 2023.

However, it will now delay its plans to start removing funding for BTECs and other applied general qualifications to 2024.

BTEC stands for the Business and Technology Education Council and are specialist work-related qualifications which combine practical learning with subject and theory content. They can be taken instead of A Levels, with some levels of BTEC also taken at GCSE level.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday (15 November), Education SecretaryNadhim Zahawi told MPs the Government’s reforms to qualifications were "rightly ambitious", but added: "We know that we would be wrong to push too hard and risk compromising quality.

He said this is why the Government has decided “to allow an extra year before our reform timetable is implemented”.

Mr Zahasaid the extra year would "allow us to continue to work hard to support the growth of T Levels and give more notice to providers, awarding organisations, employers, students and parents so that they can prepare for the changes".

This comes after the Department for Education’s confirmation earlier this year of its plans to replace most BTECs in England with the two-year-long T Levels was met with controversy.

The T Levels are worth three A-levels and will, along with apprenticeships and A-levels, be the main options for students after GCSEs.

However, after the announcement was made education leaders warned getting rid of the qualifications was "reckless" and would harm the prospects of poorer pupils, with some now welcoming the delay to the education reform plans.

‘The risk of pushing more students to lower-level qualifications’

The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) think tank said the Government’s delayed phasing out of BTECs and other applied general qualifications.

However, the think tank said it still believes “an even longer implementation period may be needed, particularly as it will take several course cycles for institutions and young people to gain confidence in new T-Level qualifications”.

CfEY added: “It is vital that the Government ensure all young people can access a range of academic and vocational pathways that will help them make a meaningful transition into adulthood".

David Robinson, Director of Post-16 and Skills for the Education Policy Institute think tank, said BTECs and other qualifications currently have “an important role to play in 16-19 education” and that “removing funding for these qualifications in order to accommodate a hasty roll out of T Levels runs the risk of pushing more students to lower-level qualifications”.

Mr Robinson said that although the Government’s announcement of the removal of the requirements of English and maths needed to complete T-Levels “reduces this risk somewhat”, he added that “it is right that the roll out of T-Levels is evaluated before any consequential decisions are made on the future of other qualifications."

UNISON head of education, Mike Short, added: “Delaying the proposed changes for 12 months was the right thing to do. The government should now use the time to improve its understanding of the further education sector and the thousands of students it supports.”

Mr Short also added that “BTECs have a tried and tested track record” and that “they have enabled thousands of less academic students to obtain the high-standard qualifications to gain excellent careers and university places”.

“They must not simply be ditched in a year’s time in favour of the unknown but government-favoured T levels. This would be a huge mistake,” he said.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary for the National Education Union also welcomed the removal of the English and math exit requirements from T-Levels, as she said “the additional hurdle of having to pass English and maths GCSEs will disadvantage many young people and prevent them from achieving the qualifications they need to progress into Higher Education or work”.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green also said on Twitter that the one year delay to BTEC defunding “is welcome but not enough for students, colleges or staff”.

She wrote: “I urged @nadhimzahawi to look again at Labour’s amendment calling for 4yr moratorium on cutting courses.

“Rapidly doing away with BTECs will hit disadvantaged students hardest.”