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Eleven organisations that represent staff and students in schools, colleges and universities have issued a joint statement urging the government to rethink plans to remove funding for the majority of applied general qualifications such as BTECs.

The organisations involved are Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Collab Group Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA), NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), National Union of Students (NUS), Schools, Students, and Teachers Network (SSAT), Unison, University Alliance.

Richard Huish College is in full support of the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign and calling on others to join the campaign. Please do visit https://www.sixthformcolleges.org/1022/protect-student-choice for more information.

The Department of Education’s proposal is to introduce a binary system of T Levels and A Levels at Level 3 and reduce funding for applied general qualifications (AGQs). Whilst A Levels and T Levels are a good choice for some learners, we strongly believe AGQs still have a vital role to play for a huge number of students.

Huish currently delivers a range of vocational subjects, many of which can be studied alongside A Levels in a mixed programme. For many, being able to study through a mixture of learning styles allows them to build a higher variety of skills in preparation for Higher Education, Apprenticeships and the workplace. Some also find they benefit from a greater range of assessment methods when planning their workloads and find a mixed programme is their route to success.

Huish student, Roo Harrington Barwick who has just completed a Study Programme of Psychology and Sociology A Levels alongside BTEC Music Production and is headed to study Human Science at Oxford in September. He found that the BTEC course was a perfect accompaniment for his career aspirations. He shared, “A lot of the work in Vocational Music consists of large long-term projects and so the course is really great for learning organisational and planning skills that I simply would not have if I didn’t take the course. What’s more, there are so many opportunities to collaborate creative ideas with friends and other musicians that teamwork becomes second nature and group projects are built so organically and effectively. Being in such a healthy, creative environment enables creative innovation to flourish and it really encourages and rewards thinking outside of the box and coming up with new and different solutions to the problems you encounter”.

He added “Without a doubt I would recommend Vocational Music. It’s perfect for providing and honing valuable alternative skills for life that universities also love to see. It can equip you for a future in any route – whether you take the subject further or, like me, you use such transferable skills to go down a completely different road. It definitely does not close any doors, and in my case, it opened more that I could only dream of”.

People are diverse and the education style of AGQs is advantageous to many. We want to #ProtectStudentChoice and continue to help all students to maximise their potential, whilst also ensuring the next generation can start their careers with diverse skillsets.

T Levels do provide an option for practical learners however the SFCA notes (source: SFCA Level 3 Consultation Response) “many students who want to progress to professional practice higher education courses (e.g. public services, nursing and allied professions, pharmacy, optometry) benefit more from the applied/practical learning in an AGQ than they do from the more academic/theoretical learning in an A level. T levels primarily lead to skilled employment rather than higher education and are not available in all subject areas”.

“There are many other specific AGQs that play a unique role and must be retained. For example: Applied Science. There is no A level equivalent (despite the suggestion in the consultation document), and students who have combined this qualification with A levels have progressed to HE and specialised in careers including radiotherapy and oncology, pharmacy, biomedical sciences, cognitive and clinical neuroscience, and paramedic science”.

The statement issued by the eleven organisations calling on the government to reconsider their plans also raised concerns that the impact of such changes to education would most affect disadvantaged students commenting “the Department for Education’s own impact assessment concludes that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose if applied general qualifications are defunded”.

 “The government’s plan to sweep away the majority of applied general qualifications like BTECs will make it harder for many young people to access higher education and harder for many employers to access the skills they need. Ministers must protect student choice and guarantee that applied general qualifications have a major role to play in the future”.

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association

“Scrapping applied generals will pull the rug from under the feet of the 200,000 young people who benefit each year from taking these proven and established qualifications which provide a great pathway to university courses, training and careers. It is a hugely unnecessary risk which will hit disadvantaged youngsters hardest.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

“Collab Group supports the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign. Applied general qualifications are central to the qualifications eco-system and ensuring students have a range of progression options is important to levelling up and delivering real social mobility.”

Ian Pretty, Chief Executive of the Collab Group

“Over a quarter of students from low participation neighbourhoods entering higher education have taken a BTEC qualification. Defunding these qualifications could set back access to higher education and social mobility a decade or more.”

Professor Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON)

“As the voice of professional and technical universities, we urge the government to protect student choice and flexibility by continuing to fund a range of applied general qualifications, which are a valuable pathway for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access vocational and technical degrees.”

Vanessa Wilson, CEO of the University Alliance