More than 100 MPs and Lords have written to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi asking him not to scrap BTecs in favour of the new T-level qualification for children and young people.
Although BTecs are at the same level as T-levels, further education colleges offering T-levels are likely to make GCSEs in English and maths an entry requirement whereas previously they would open BTec courses up to those who still needed retakes to gain maths and English GCSEs.
Critics of the new qualification argue that where students do not have the GCSE grades to do A-levels or Btecs, then the entry requirements for the new T-levels will mean they have fewer options. Head of the Sixth Form Colleges Association Bill Watkins said the changes were a “hammer blow for social mobility”.
T-levels include a minimum 45-day work placement that college leaders say reduces the time available for retakes. According to the government they will offer students a route into work or university. They are two-year courses based on the same standards as apprenticeships, designed by employers and approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and are considered an alternative to A-levels, apprenticeships and BTecs.
Earlier this year the T-level in HR was scrapped because the Department for Education was unable to award a contract for its development.
On 13 October 118 MPs wrote to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi asking him to rethink plans to use T-levels to replace BTecs in England . The previous day peers voted to amend the Skills Bill to demand a four-year transition before funding is removed from BTecs.
The MPs broadly support the Protect Student Choice campaign – a coalition of education organisations including many colleges and universities.
Watkins, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, told the BBC the shake-up was far from “levelling up” and was a blow against social mobility.
Lots of young people will find themselves with no real pathway to fulfil their goals and dreams, and that’s incredibly sad” – Graham Pennington, Sandwell College Group
Graham Pennington, chief executive of Sandwell College Group – which presently offers A-levels, BTecs and T-levels – said if many BTecs were scrapped “possibly tens of thousands of young people would not have a clear route”.
“They’re going to find it very difficult to come to college and gain qualifications that will help them get further in their life.
“It’s a very risky scenario,” he added.
“Lots of young people will find themselves with no real pathway to fulfil their goals and dreams, and that’s incredibly sad.”
Three T-levels were launched in 2020 and a further seven have started this term.
The letter to Zahawi has been signed by three former education secretaries – Kenneth Baker, Estelle Morris and David Blunkett.
They argue the move “will leave many students without a viable pathway after their GCSEs, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
They are concerned that “removing the vast majority of BTecs will lead to students taking courses that do not meet their needs, or dropping out of education altogether”.
Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan, however, said the government would ensure there was a range of high quality courses.
She said: “T-levels are a route to university. They are highly academic courses that focus on certain skill levels and they’re going to be highly respected not just by business, but by universities.”
Baker and Blunkett, writing for the Guardian, said they were not against T-levels, but they were only 25% practical and 75% academic. “This means,” they wrote, “they are suitable for students with the highest grades of GCSEs: 6-9. They would be out of reach of those students with lower grades, who presently take up a broad and highly relevant employment-focused BTec.”
They pointed out that last year 250,000 young people took a BTec national diploma, “which equipped them for the world of work, or transition into an appropriate university course”.
One career adviser working at state secondary schools in south London told Personnel Today: “The BTec system is popular and working well, why change it? The extra work experience is good – if it can be found – but there are a host of reasons why the current BTecs should be kept going.”
T-levels currently available are:
- Building services engineering for construction
- Design, surveying and planning for construction
digital business services
- Digital production, design and development
- Digital support services
Education and childcare
- Healthcare science
- Onsite construction
Education sector HR roles on Personnel Today