'Under the Conservative Party’s rule, the skills agenda has been nothing more than an afterthought. Apprenticeship starts have fallen by 38%, the number of adult learners has dropped by 4 million'
Rachel Hopkins is Labour Party MP for Luton South and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
The Conservative Party’s assault on BTECs is an attack on the future life chances of our ambitious young people. We must defend BTEC qualifications which are a springboard for many people from working class backgrounds into well-paid skilled employment or university.
Currently, young people in England have the choice of pursuing three types of Level 3 qualification at 16: academic qualifications like A levels, technical qualifications that lead to a specific occupation like T Levels and applied general qualifications that combine practical skills with academic learning like BTECs. Last year, the Department for Education confirmed that it intended to replace this three-route model with a two-route model of A levels and T levels, therefore, stripping funding from the majority of BTEC qualifications.
Studying a BTEC empowers a young person to shape their own pathway, whether that is going to university, pursuing a technical qualification or seeking employment or a higher-level apprenticeship. Restricting a young person’s choice at 16 undermines their ability to explore their capabilities and interests as they develop in Further Education. Withdrawing BTECs, without an alternative pathway that still meets the needs of people, employers and the labour market, is irresponsible policymaking.
Under the Conservative Party’s rule, the skills agenda has been nothing more than an afterthought. Apprenticeship starts have fallen by 38%, the number of adult learners has dropped by 4 million, and 4 in 10 young people are leaving education without a Level 3 qualification. A shameful record that emphasises, now more than ever, the need for a progressive skills agenda with proposals that build a modern economy fit for the 21st century.
As engines of social mobility, BTECs must play a significant role in our agenda. The Social Market Foundation found that 44% of white working-class students that enter university studied at least one BTEC and 37% of black students enter with only BTEC qualification. The Department for Education’s own equalities impact assessment stated that scrapping BTECs would disproportionately impact “those from SEND backgrounds, Asian ethnic groups, disadvantaged backgrounds, and males.”
Thanks to the excellent work by the #ProtectStudentChoice campaign coalition and the Labour Party, the Conservative Government has delayed the cut in funding until 2024, rather than 2023 under the initial plan. We now need to build a united opposition to any future attempt by the Conservative Party to revive the plans.
For our communities to thrive through the creation of local skilled, well-paid employment, the qualifications must meet the needs of people and employers. As a Governor of Luton Sixth Form College, I have seen first-hand the transformational impact BTECs can have on our young people’s future opportunities.
The Labour Shadow Education team has been advocating for a progressive skills agenda, including on the protection of BTECs, during the debates on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. By defending, not defunding, BTECs, we can send a clear message to the Conservative Party that we will not stand idle while it wreaks havoc on a key avenue to enhancing living standards across our country.