A KEY education union campaign to stop BTec vocational qualifications being scrapped within two years has won backing from both MPs and even lords across the parliamentary parties.
Some 118 have written to Tory Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi asking him to re-think plans to use T-levels to replace them in England.
Then on Tuesday peers voted to amend the Skills Bill to demand at least a four-year transition before funding is removed – while the government conceded that T-levels offer students a route to university or work.
Although they are at the same level as BTecs, T-levels are different in their design and include a work placement, which college principals say reduces the time available to re-take core GCSEs such as maths and English.
Colleges offering T-levels are likely to make GCSEs in English and maths an entry requirement, which may mean they’re less likely to offer places to those who need to do re-takes.
If a student does 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.
The letter to Zahawi is in support of the Protect Student Choice campaign – by a coalition of education organisations including many colleges and universities.
Bill Watkins, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the shake-up was far from ‘levelling up. This is a hammer blow for social mobility,’ he said.
College principal Graham Pennington worries that some students will not be able to advance in their careers. As the chief executive of Sandwell College Group – which presently offers A-levels, BTecs and T-levels – Pennington said that 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,’ he added.
‘It’s a very risky scenario. Lots of young people will find themselves with no real pathway to fulfil their goals and dreams, and that’s incredibly sad.’
T-levels are the government’s flagship new technical qualification, being phased in over three or four years from 2020. Designed with ‘business’, they require a minimum of 45 days of work placement.
Three were launched in 2020 and a further seven have started this term. Students face a choice – Cadbury College in Kings Norton, Birmingham, offers students a choice of A-levels, BTecs or T-levels – which are equivalent to three A-levels.
Jess Cartmell is on a T-level childcare and education course at the college. ‘I like the fact that it’s something I definitely want to do and it will definitely take me to where I want to be,’ she said.
As well as learning about child development and childcare in college, Jess is spending two days a week on a placement in a nursery. But she says she was unusual in knowing what she wanted to do at the age of 16.
‘T-level, A-level and B-Tec students at Cadbury College – fewer than half knew what they wanted to do. I think that’s why most people chose BTecs and A-levels.’
Yasna Rezael, who is doing two BTecs in Applied Science and Psychology, said: ‘At the beginning of the year I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I chose applied science which means I can have a variety of choices at university.’
Within a couple of years, after that, most 16-year-olds in England will be asked to choose between traditional A-levels or T-levels.
The letter to Zahawi has been signed by three former Education Secretaries – Lord Baker of Dorking, Baroness Morris of Yardley and Lord Blunkett. They argue that the move ‘will leave many students without a viable pathway after their GCSEs, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds’.
And 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 said the government would ensure there was a good range of high quality courses.
She said: ‘T-levels are a route to university. They are a highly academic courses that focus on on certain skill levels and they’re going to be highly respected not just by business, but by universities.
‘We will ensure there’s a good range of courses overall and ensure there is quality.’
- Meanwhile teachers in Scotland – members of the NASUWT union – have expressed anger and opposition to their current pay offer – and a clear commitment to further action.
Eighty-five per cent of these teachers oppose the current pay offer, with 82% saying they believe it is unfair in the current circumstances. And 78% say any imposition of the current 1.22% offer will have a negative impact on their morale.
The overwhelming majority also indicated a willingness to take further action if necessary over the pay offer.
And as the NASUWT’s general secretary, Dr Patrick Roach went on to warn: ‘The anger and frustration of teachers over the failure to agree a fair pay award is clear – the current offer of 1.22% represents a further significant real-terms pay cut on top of a decade of erosion in teachers’ salaries.
‘NASUWT members have been clear that they are willing to take further action on pay – and we have put the Cabinet Secretary and employers on notice that no option is being discounted by the Union to obtain a fair pay award for teachers.
‘At a time when more and more is being asked of the profession, the Scottish Government and employers need to come back to the table with an improved offer which represents real progress towards pay restoration for all teachers.’
And commenting on a call by the Local Government Association for school-based counselling to be available and properly funded by Government, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, (NEU) said:
‘Schools definitely need more counsellors. Most secondary schools need at least one full time counsellor to keep up with the demands for their expert support and so we think the LGA recommendation is a good step in that direction.
‘We agree with the LGA that more school-based counselling would be a sensible step given the increased number of young people with anxiety and mental health issues. Situating these services for young people in schools makes sense.
‘We think the Government should be looking at a model whereby the services which young people and their parents and carers needs can be accessed through and in schools – and with funding planned accordingly.
‘The waiting lists for mental health support are a real problem and families who can afford to pay for faster support are doing this out of desperation. Early intervention through school counsellors to make young people feel supported at and via their school is so important.
‘Having on-site counsellors can prevent other problems spiralling, such as attendance or anxiety problems.
‘Government needs to be seriously tackling the causes of the increase in poor mental health for children and young people.
‘This includes looking at the education system as a whole and the detrimental effects of a narrow curriculum.
‘The SEND Review and Behaviour and Exclusions updates provide an opportunity for the Government to entrench well-being and good mental health approaches at the heart of education and to prevent an imminent crisis in the mental health of a generation of young people.’