Scrapping Applied General qualifications, the most well known of which is the BTEC, would be ‘reckless’ according to a joint statement from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA).

The warning comes as the government launches a consultation on the future of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below. The consultation is on ‘only providing public funding for qualifications that meet key criteria on quality, purpose, necessity and progression’ and ‘not providing public funding for qualifications for 16 to 19 year olds that overlap with T Levels or A Levels’. T Levels are the government’s new technical qualification which will be introduced in 2020, and will be considered equivalent to A Levels. The prime minister has previously said that they will be the ‘gold-standard’ for vocational qualifications.

The ASCL and SFCA say that the terms of the consultation suggest that it is ‘loaded towards a conclusion which will sound the death knell for Applied General qualifications’. Among their concerns is that if Applied General qualifications are scrapped students would be forced to choose either an entirely academic route and take only A-levels, or a solely vocational route and take only T Levels, rather than mixing qualifications as they are able to do at present. They say that such a ‘binary divide’ would not be in the interests of students. They also point out that T Levels are currently ‘untried and untested’ and therefore discontinuing alternative vocational qualifications would be premature. Their statement also warns that the disruption and additional workload of overhauling many programmes of study would be challenging for ‘a sector which is particularly poorly funded by the government.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: ‘We very much hope that T Levels are a success. However, that should not be at the expense of a qualification which is proven and popular. Sceptics might be inclined to think that the government has spent so much time heralding the advent of T Levels that it is now intent on clearing the path of any potential competition.’

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the SFCA, commented: ‘The government may see the introduction of T Levels as the best way to address the skills gap, about which it is, quite rightly, concerned. But this should not be at the expense of Applied Generals – these qualifications help young people to acquire the skills that our economy and society need and we will be making the strongest possible case to ensure they have a secure future’.

Launching the consultation education secretary Damian Hinds said ‘We have made huge progress to boost the quality of education and training on offer for young people. From 2020 we will start to roll out new T Levels which will offer young people high-quality technical courses alongside our world class A Levels’, adding ‘We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes post 16. But we can improve the quality of the options out there and by raising quality, more students and parents will trust these routes’.

The consultation can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yywtvecq and runs until 10 June 2019.

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