A new report has found that at least 155,000 sixth form students could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026 as a result of the government’s plan to scrap most BTEC qualifications.
The report, Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications, predicts that a sharp reduction in the number of applied general qualifications such as BTECs, combined with slow growth in the number of students taking the government’s flagship new T level qualifications will “create a significant gap in the qualifications landscape”.
In 2022/23, 281,260 students were studying at least one Level 3 BTEC qualification, and 15,410 were studying a T level. The report found that just 90,000 students are studying BTECs that might still be available in 2026 and predicts that the number of students studying a T level – the qualification the government would like to replace BTECs – will only increase to 51,000. As a result, at least 155,000 young people (13% of all sixth form students in England) could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026.
The report, published by the Protect Student Choice campaign of 30 education and employer bodies, describes the proposed timescale for replacing BTECs with T levels as “wildly unrealistic” and criticises the government for not publishing any modelling on the routes that students might take after most BTECs have been scrapped.
The report also scrutinises the data the government uses to justify its plan and concludes that “Ministers are so desperate to boost the number of students taking T levels that they routinely (mis)use a range of measures to understate the performance of applied general qualifications and overstate the performance (and potential uptake) of T levels”.
As things stand, detailed performance data on T levels will only be published after BTECs have been scrapped. The report recommends that ministers wait for detailed performance data on T levels to be published before making decisions about the future of applied general qualifications and urges the government to “adopt an evidence-based approach to policymaking in this area”.
Commenting on the report,
Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said:
“This report highlights how ministers routinely use data in a partial and misleading way to justify their plan to scrap most BTECs and replace them with T levels. T levels are a welcome addition to the qualifications landscape, but there is simply no data to support the government’s claim that they are a gold standard improvement on BTECs. The analysis also indicates that T levels will only be available to a relatively small number of students in the short to medium term; as a result, 155,000 sixth form students could fall through the gap created by the government’s hasty and misguided cull of BTECs. Ministers must pause and review their plan, to avoid doing serious damage to young people, social mobility and the economy.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“This report uses data and evidence to highlight a disaster waiting to happen – that over 150,000 post-16 students in schools and colleges will be left without a suitable programme to study, as a result of the government’s reckless plans to defund BTECs in order to push through T levels. ASCL has always considered T levels to be a welcome additional qualification to the sixth form landscape – but not at the expense of BTECs and other AGQs. We have also been worried about the lack of evidence from the government on the impact of its proposals, especially on more disadvantaged sixth-formers – this data-driven report finally reveals the calamitous impact they will have. The government must not disregard these findings and should now pause and review its plans as a matter of extreme urgency. To fail to do so is to wilfully abandon the futures of a whole generation of sixth form students.”
Jo Grady, General Secretary of UCU, said:
“This report provides yet more evidence that government plans to scrap BTECs and rollout T Levels will be disastrous for student choice and further education provision. It is incredibly worrying that ministers are playing fast and loose with the relevant data to push ahead with their flawed plans. The government now needs to listen to the findings of this report, alongside those from the Education Select Committee and abandon these hasty reforms.”
Sue Williamson, Chief Executive of SSAT, said:
“Students have been adversely affected too often by rash decisions by ministers. As this report illustrates, now is not the time to abolish AGQs – they need to continue, whilst T qualifications embed and independent evaluation takes place. Students deserve three high-quality qualification routes post-16.”
Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive of UVAC, said:
“The University Vocational Awards Council supports the Protect Student Choice campaign and has long argued for a continuation of funding for Applied Generals. As this report shows, these qualifications provide a good progression route to HE and have been used to support progression for under-represented cohorts. We oppose the policy of defunding AGQs. Period.”