‘Disadvantaging thousands’ – post-16 qualification reforms confirmed

Hattie Fisk
Thursday, July 15, 2021

The proposals set out in October were met with fears that students not suited to A Levels would be excluded from taking drama qualifications.

Adobe Stock/ Kozlik Mozlik

Following January’s public consultation on the future of post-16 qualifications, the government has published a response document confirming that A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships are to be the main pathways for students after GCSEs.

Within the drama education community, concerns previously raised about the proposed reforms included the likely defunding of Level 3 vocational qualifications such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals, as well as the current lack of a T Level in drama or performing arts. 

The 68-page response features feedback from 1,345 sources, including 527 teachers, after the deadline for responses was pushed back by two weeks in January. Within the document, the government makes clear that they want to bring about ‘substantive change’ that ‘offers clear progression pathways for students’. 

Concern has been growing in the education sector, as made clear by Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, who said: ‘The proposals set out [yesterday] have the potential to be hugely damaging to the prospects and life chances of young people in England. 

‘It is clear that the government intends to sweep away the vast majority of applied general qualifications like BTECs, and students will only have the option to study A Levels or T Levels from the age of 16. But for many young people, studying a BTEC qualification will be a much more effective route to higher education or skilled employment.’

In response to stage two of the reforms in January, National Drama said: ‘We believe that creative BTEC Nationals qualifications and larger three A Level equivalent qualifications should continue to be funded. They provide a valued and robust practical and theoretical qualification, which is more inclusive, more accessible, and supports progression for all. At the very least, there should be a commitment made to fund T Levels in drama and all performing arts.’

The government has said it will not provide a list of the qualifications or the subjects that will be funded in the future; there is currently no replacement T Level in drama or performing arts. Of those who responded to the survey, 59 per cent thought ‘the Institute should create additional T Levels for pathways and occupations featured on occupational maps at level 3’, including performing arts. 

Apprehension has increased in the education sector, as shown by a plea from chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, who has urged the government to reconsider its plan to defund qualifications. Hughes said: ‘If the government really wants to level up, it needs to slow down this major reform and recognise the risks to thousands of young people. 

‘Working with colleges, this reform would be a success, so it is difficult to see why the Department for Education is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.’ 

‘We urge DfE to take a moment, work with the college sector, and create a new rollout plan that ensures T Levels are a success, while not inadvertently disadvantaging thousands of already disadvantaged students with their quest for speed.’

As Hughes makes clear, a number of individuals in the education sector believe that more time for the implementation of T Levels and the removal of funding is needed, with 80 per cent of consultation respondents suggesting there are ‘other considerations’ that the government needs to investigate before implementing these changes. 

To read the full government response, visit their website.