As associations representing many post-16 institutions and leaders, we wish to bring to public attention the threat to a qualification which is taken by more than 200,000 students each year and allows many young people to enter university.
The government has recently launched a consultation which appears to be loaded towards a conclusion which will sound the death knell for Applied General qualifications, the most well-known of which is the BTEC.
The rationale for this review is the introduction of new vocational qualifications, T Levels, which are being phased in from 2020.
Applied General qualifications are tried and tested, and recognised by universities and employers. It would be rash and reckless to scrap these qualifications in favour of T Levels which are untried and untested.
Students can currently take a mixture of Applied General qualifications and A-levels. This would no longer be possible. Other than in exceptional circumstances, they would have to choose either an entirely academic route and take only A-levels, or an entirely vocational route and take only T Levels.
This would restrict student choice and create a binary divide between academic and vocational routes. We do not believe this is in the best interests of students.
It would also mean that post-16 institutions and teachers would have to overhaul entire programmes of study causing considerable disruption and additional workload in a sector which is particularly poorly funded by the government.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, 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.
“T Levels should stand on their own merits as an option that attracts students rather than being the only vocational option available to them.”
Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Applied General qualifications sit comfortably alongside A Levels, helping students get into higher education and employment, and they ensure young people develop a vitally important set of skills that are highly valued in universities and the workplace.
“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”.