The Department for Education has decided to scrap funding for over 5,000 post-GCSE qualifications in the UK, it was announced last week.

The courses, which are equivalent to three A-levels, were developed in collaboration with businesses in order to offer more choice to students after secondary school.

However, due to little to no interest, education ministers made the decision to scrap over 5,000 courses, which make up 40% of the 12,000 post-16 qualifications.

In their place, the DfE are preparing to introduce new T-levels in September, which will offer a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience through industry placements.

The decision is part of the government’s wider review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 (A-level standard) and below.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Removing funding for qualifications that have no or low numbers of enrolments will help make sure students have a clearer choice of the qualifications on offer, and ensure they get the skills they need to progress.”

However, head of well-respected qualification provider City & Guilds said the move would be “disastrous for social mobility”, creating a system where 16-year-olds will only have one of three routes to choose from – A-levels, apprenticeships or T-levels.

Chief Executive Kirstie Donnelly said that many students are simply not ready to make the jump from GCSEs to T-Levels.

“Removing that vital rung on the skills ladder towards Level 3 and above will be disastrous for social mobility and leave more and more people stranded with no route into work,” she said.

“We urge the government to think carefully before removing this lifeline for people and leaving employers unable to access the skilled workforces they need.”

Tom Bewick, head of the trade association for the Federal of Awarding Bodies agreed, saying: “This is clearly a very top-down review…vocational technical qualifications have been a great idea but they’re for other people’s children – and they certainly aren’t for the people that are in the senior levels within the Department for Education.”

He went on to say that not all students will feel that one of these three routes is applicable to them, drawing particular attention to students with learning or physical disabilities.

Giving the example of Level 3 in aromatherapy, used by the Royal National College for the Blind, he said, “It’s actually a qualification that helps learners who have visual impairment gain access to employment in the therapeutic and spa industries.

Student learning hairdressing

“It enrols very few numbers, but nevertheless that’s an example of a very niche qualification that help people into the labour market.

“We have got young people who are leaving school who are turned off by classroom learning. They need opportunities for learning by doing, to get practical vocational qualifications.”

Higher quality, ‘necessary’ qualifications

The DfE said that the cuts will help to ensure all qualifications on offer are high-quality, necessary and will support students to progress into employment or further study.

It is also intended that funding goes towards more popular qualifications that help students learn skills they need to go on to have successful careers.

Among the qualifications being scrapped are certificates for specific businesses or jobs, such as dry stone-walling, nail art and warehouse management. However, they also include entry-level qualifications and one designed to boost the confidence of students who struggle with learning.

The government is currently seeking views on whether any of the 5,000 qualifications on the list should continue to attract public funding.

What are T-levels?

T-Levels are new qualifications aimed at 16-year-olds after GCSEs, expected to be introduced in September 2020.

They will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during industry placements. Only 2,000 qualifications will be on offer initially, and will include subjects like accountancy, catering, finance, hair and beauty and manufacturing.

The courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses according to the needs of those particular industries, in order to fully prepare students for work.

The qualifications are graded with one of four grades – Pass, Merit, Distinction and Distinction*. Students will also receive a nationally recognised certificate and a breakdown of what they have achieved across their T-Level programme.

According to BBC Education Editor Branwen Jeffreys, their addition is the biggest shake-up in vocational education in a generation. They will be tough and are intended to help more students attain the higher-level skills that businesses say they need.