Pause post-16 education reform or risk worsening skills shortages, warn MPs

The government must halt its post-16 qualifications restructuring or risk worsening the UK’s skills shortage, MPs have warned, while campaigners have branded the proposed reforms ‘misguided’ and ‘reckless’.

Plans to withdraw funding from proven applied general qualifications (AGQs) before there is time to consider introducing new T-levels could end up restricting student choice, the Education Committee said.

Concerns have been raised about T-levels since they were first introduced in 2019 as technical alternatives to A-levels, according to the group of cross-party MPs.

These include unequal regional access to placements in the industry and an apparent decline in employers’ interest in offering placements, according to a report released Friday.

T-levels will not succeed without a significant “industry buy-in,” the committee warned.

Ministers have been urged to impose a moratorium on the defunding of AGQs until there is ‘solid evidence’ that T-levels are effective in helping students progress, promote social mobility and meet the needs of the sector.

MPs are also calling for a “wholesale review” of 16-19 funding after hearing of the difficulties the sector has faced due to real-term reductions in funding between 2010 and 2020.

Conservative MP and committee chair Robin Walker said: ‘We welcome the government’s ambition to clean up the post-16 landscape and raise the status of technical skills.

“The Prime Minister was right when he hailed higher education as a silver bullet that could boost productivity by equipping workers with the right skills for a changing economy.

“We have also been encouraged by the evidence that T-levels are proving to be effective.

“But it is essential that the DfE (Department for Education) promotes them among students and the thousands of employers needed to provide jobs, otherwise T-levels will not make a significant difference.

“We are concerned about the feasibility of increasing T-levels and, as it stands, the planned withdrawal of the AGQs will restrict student choice and could exacerbate the skills shortages these reforms are intended to address, including in vital sectors such as social care – effectively pulling the rug from under the higher education system.

“We are calling for a moratorium on these reforms until T-levels are fully implemented and there is solid evidence to show they adequately replace AGQs.”

Walker said ministers must also make sure T-levels didn’t leave students unrewarded for their efforts, failing to establish clear pathways to higher degrees, apprenticeships and technical qualifications.

“We are also calling on the DfE to reverse the sharp decline in apprenticeship starts and address the perverse situation where most apprenticeships are being placed with older, already highly skilled adults at the expense of young people and the taxpayer,” he said.

AGQs are Level 3 qualifications, like the BTECs, for students who wish to undertake broad study of a specific professional area.

The DfE is planning to remove funding approval for a number of qualifications that overlap T-levels and it is unclear how many AGQs could remain once its reforms are completed, the committee said.

The department argued that a large number of qualifications creates “bewildering choices” for students and employers and that options need to be simplified.

But school leaders accused the government of a “reckless” push to abandon BTECs without having “a clue” how successful the T-levels will be in practice.

Julie McCulloch, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘The government’s reckless rush to drop BTEC and similar qualifications before T-levels are properly integrated has been resisted by virtually everyone in the industry. of education.

“We have repeatedly warned that this risks leaving many thousands of students without a viable post-16 pathway, causing enormous damage to their future life chances.

“However, ministers have put their foot down and appear determined to scrap a proven set of qualifications leading to higher education, apprenticeships and careers without having a clue how T-levels will work in practice.

“We can only hope that they now heed the warnings of the Education Select Committee and introduce a more sensible and measured approach that is in the interests of young people.”

The union also echoed the committee’s call for a review of 16-19 funding, arguing that funding for post-16 education is “hopelessly inadequate”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the government’s plans were “misguided” and “damaging” to post-16 education.

“As the Cross-Party Education Committee is now supporting calls from the Protect Student Choice coalition and the wider group of students, parents, MPs and employers who support the campaign, we hope ministers will finally start listening and rethinking the their damaging propositions,” Mr. Watkin said.

“The life chances of tens of thousands of young people will be at serious risk if the government does not suspend its botched plan to eliminate most BTEC qualifications.

“We hope today’s report will encourage the government to take a balanced and evidence-based approach to policymaking in this area.”

A DfE spokesperson said: ‘Our post-16 qualifications system offers a ladder of opportunities for young people from all backgrounds, so every qualification leads to a rewarding career, whether through higher education or skilled work.

“We welcome the committee’s recognition of the importance of our reforms. We will consider the recommendations and respond in due course.”

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