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Potential impact of Level 3 reform on widening participation

Ria Bhatta, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at Pearson, discusses how the Level 3 reform may impact widening participation

Last week Nadhim Zahawi, the Secretary of State for Education, made the welcome announcement that there would be a one-year delay to the Level 3 reform. This means that the forthcoming de-funding of many Level 3 BTECs and other Applied General qualifications would be postponed, affecting new Level 3 enrolments from 2024/25 onwards.

The other good news from the recent DfE consultation on Level 3 qualifications was that one of the outcomes would allow for some Level 3 qualifications to exist alongside A Levels and T Levels, which would potentially include some BTEC qualifications.

However, the accompanying policy statement by DfE makes it clear that it will be “rare” in the future to have Study Programmes made up of alternative academic qualifications such as Applied General (i.e. BTEC and equivalent) qualifications.  

Impact on widening participation

We all know that BTEC students are more likely to come from a widening participation background than those going down the A Level route. For example, based on HESA 2017 entry data where parental/carer occupation is known, 20% of A Level students come from the bottom four socio-economic groups, versus 41% of BTEC students.

The DfE’s updated Impact Assessment states that fewer students will achieve Level 3 as a result of these reforms and that there will be a disproportionate impact on certain student groups, including: students with SEN, males, those from Asian ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds.

This means that, as a result, fewer will be able to progress to HE, and given the potential impact identified for certain student groups, this is likely to adversely impact on the widening participation agenda.

At Pearson, we therefore believe it is important that students continue to have access to well-established Level 3 qualifications like the BTEC and other Applied General qualifications, alongside A Levels and T Levels.

Protect Student Choice

The Sixth Form College Association, in collaboration with 25 partners from across the education sector, have started the Protect Student Choice campaign. HE organisations that support the campaign include UUK, the University Alliance, MillionPlus group, GuildHE, UVAC, NEON and Linking London.

The aim of the campaign is to protect BTEC and other Applied Generals within the Level 3 curriculum in the longer term, and stop them from being de-funded so students can still have access to this well-established provision.

As part of the campaign, they have set up a petition with the aim of reaching 100,000 signatures so that this matter can be properly debated in parliament. If this is of interest to you, please consider signing and sharing the petition with anyone else that you think may be interested. People can sign as individuals and multiple people within an organisation can sign. Every signature counts.

Additional ways of supporting the campaign include:

  • Writing blogs/articles to raise awareness of the potential impact on students.
  • Writing to your local MP about the potential impact.
  • Sharing details of the campaign and petition with other interested colleagues (e.g. admissions, widening participation, recruitment, policy).
  • Sharing data with Pearson on BTEC students that have progressed in your institution (we are particularly interested in any data on those who completed the recently reformed/RQF BTECs).
  • Sharing case studies of successful BTEC students with us.

If you have any questions about the BTEC qualifications, or wish to discuss additional ways of supporting the effort to maintain BTECs within the Level 3 curriculum, please contact Ria Bhatta, Head of Stakeholder Engagement (ria.bhatta@pearson.com).

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