Students could miss out on suitable vocational courses after their GCSEs if a shake-up of post-16 education goes ahead as planned, a report has warned.
The Education Committee report urges the government to halt plans to stop funding courses such as BTecs before new T-levels are ready to replace them.
The plans could also worsen skills shortages in key industries, MPs said.
The Department for Education said it welcomed the report and would consider its recommendations.
The government currently plans to withdraw older vocational courses – known collectively as applied general qualifications (AGQs) – as it rolls out T-levels, prioritising those that “overlap” with the new qualifications.
T-levels are two-year courses available in England, roughly equivalent to three A-levels but focused on practical subjects such as:
- social care
They combine classroom learning and on-the-job experience, with each course including a nine-week placement.
New T-levels have been introduced each academic year since they started, in 2020. But in March, the government said it would have to delay rolling out four new programmes intended for this year, as more work was required to ensure they could be “delivered to a high standard”.
The Education Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, warns students could be left without vocational options if AGQs are withdrawn too soon.
The report also raises concerns about T-level placements.
The government’s own research suggests nearly two-thirds of employers were not interested in offering T-level placements, it says, and that interest declined between 2019 and 2021.
‘My placement was overall a bad experience’
Rachel Appiah-Kubi, in the final year of her digital production, design and development T-level, says some of her friends struggled to find placements. And her own initial placement, with a digital marketing company, was unsuited to the experience she was hoping to accrue.
“It was just overall a bad experience because the employer wasn’t very interactive with us,” she says. “And it wasn’t very interesting – it was mostly just creating content for TikTok and stuff, which wasn’t really what I was interested in.”
But Ms Appiah-Kubi hopes her more recent placement – coding for the civil service – will land her an apprenticeship once she completes her course.
Robin Walker, who chairs the committee, applauded the government’s ambition to “declutter” post-16 education and boost the status of technical qualifications but said more evidence was needed to prove T-levels could adequately replace AGQs.
“We have concerns about the feasibility of scaling up T-levels,” he said. “And as it stands, the planned withdrawal of AGQs will constrict student choice and could deepen the skills shortages that these reforms are meant to fix, including in vital sectors such as social care – effectively pulling the rug from under the further-education system.”
The committee’s wide-ranging report also raises a number of other concerns about T-levels, including:
- “low” awareness of the courses among employers, students and parents
- regional differences in T-level awareness – with big disparities between London and northern areas
- accessibility for students with special educational needs and disabilities or low academic attainment
- the ability to expand and improve the courses relative to future demand
- the status of T-levels as a university qualification, with many courses being highly specialised.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our post-16 qualifications system provides a ladder of opportunity for young people from all backgrounds, so every qualification leads to a rewarding career, either through higher education or skilled work.
“We welcome the committee’s recognition of the importance of our reforms. We will consider the recommendations and respond in due course.”
Elsewhere in the report, MPs point to a “perverse” trend of apprenticeships being handed out to older, more qualified adults, as opposed to young people seeking industry experience.
They also highlight shortcomings in the prime minister’s plans for all pupils in England to study some form of maths up until the age of 18, pointing out the Department for Education has missed targets for recruiting qualified maths teachers every year for the past 11 years.
The report also calls for the introduction of alternative qualifications to A-level maths and says the government must address the challenges in recruiting and retaining maths teachers.