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BTEC Qualifications

Volume 702: debated on Monday 1 November 2021

17. What recent assessment he has made of the impact of removing funding for BTEC qualifications on students. (903950)

I can confirm, following what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that we are not planning to remove funding from all BTECs. We will continue to fund high-quality qualifications, including BTECs, that can be taken alongside, or as alternatives to, T-levels and A-levels where there is a clear need for skills and knowledge. We will be led by the evidence and the final decision on qualifications reform will be taken in due course.

I welcome the Minister’s response to the question, but the Department’s own equalities impact assessment concluded that those from SEND black and disadvantaged backgrounds, and males were

“disproportionately likely to be affected”

by the plan to scrap the majority of BTECs. The City of Liverpool College offers 21 BTEC and 51 level 3 qualifications, and 1,400 learners would be impacted by the proposed changes. Is it not time that he listened to the calls from the Protect Student Choice campaign to rethink this damaging proposal?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is a powerful advocate for the people of Liverpool. I would, respectfully, draw her attention to page 13 of the “Government consultation response: impact assessment”, which states:

“Following the additional flexibility on the future academic landscape, and the accompanying updated mapping and data, students from Black ethnic groups are no longer anticipated to be disproportionately highly affected. “

She raises an important point, which we are mindful of; we want all students, at all levels, to have the best opportunities. That is why we are reviewing level 3 qualifications and level 2 qualifications, so that we can have a qualifications system that gives students the skills they need, to get the jobs they need, for the economy we want.

Given that 4,500 young people in Liverpool alone studied BTECs in 2020—the figure is an underestimate, as it does not include older BTECs—the Government’s plan to scrap the majority of these qualifications will leave thousands of students in cities such as Liverpool without a viable pathway at the age of 16. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers listen to the 24 education bodies in the Protect Student Choice campaign and the 118 parliamentarians who wrote to him about this issue, or perhaps to former Conservative Secretary of State Lord Baker, who has described the plan as an “act of educational vandalism”? Despite what the Secretary of State and the Minister have said, will they rethink the proposal to defund most BTECs?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; it is nice to have two questions from Liverpool back to back. I must tell the House that we are undertaking an historic reform of technical education in this country. We want technical qualifications, at all levels, that are designed with employers, to give students the opportunities they need. At 16, that will mean that some students will get gold-standard level 3 qualifications that will lead to work, degree-level apprenticeships or higher education. For some, it will mean excellent level 2 qualifications, which will lead to apprenticeships or to work, or to our lifetime skills guarantee, announced by the Prime Minister in September 2020, allowing everybody to get a level 3 qualification.

Clearly, it would have been sensible for the Government to have finished their evidence and understood the outcome of the policy before starting to undermine BTECs by announcing that they would defund many of them. There is a widespread body of opinion that many of the 230,000 students studying level 3 BTEC qualifications might not be able to get on to that qualification in future. Will the new Minister—I should have welcomed him to his place; I do so late in my question—tell us in which year the Government are likely to meet their target of having 100,000 students studying T-levels? Will he guarantee that those changes will not lead to a reduction in the number of students studying level 3 qualifications in the future?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his belated welcome.

We just had a historic spending review for skills in this country, with £2.8 billion of capital for skills, including money to deliver new T-levels across the spending-review period. Those T-levels will give more students the opportunity to progress into work at a higher level. Our level 2 review will enable more students to progress into work at the right level for them.