2022 Summer Term

The know zone

  • Opportunity for all?
    The long-awaited white paper has been published but will it finally help close the disadvantage gap in primary and will it level up? Tiffnie Harris takes a closer look. More
  • Just how safe is the BTEC now?
    After a softening of the government's language on defunding BTECs, the first list of affected qualifications is now out. Kevin Gilmartin provides an update. More
  • Flexible working
    Hayley Dunn believes schools can successfully recruit and retain business leaders by offering them an opportunity to work from home. More
  • Boost or bust?
    Will the government's new Skills and Post-16 Education Act measure up, deliver growth and boost the economy? Anne Murdoch investigates. More
  • Debunking myths
    Jacques Szemalikowski offers reassurance around changes to the pension scheme. More
  • Nuggets of joy
    ASCL members share their uplifting stories, moments of greatness and little nuggets of joy and laughter More
  • Keep smiling
    In search of some much-needed light relief, Gareth Burton dips into the pages of his journal which records the amusing moments from his two decades as a teacher. More
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After a softening of the government's language on defunding BTECs, the first list of affected qualifications is now out. Kevin Gilmartin provides an update.

Just how safe is the BTEC now?


It’s doubtful that when the poet TS Eliot remarked “last year’s words belong to last year’s language” he was referring to government policy statements. But the phrase applies nicely to the changing language the government has used concerning the contentious issue of defunding qualifications at Level 3, of which the BTEC is the largest qualification. As ASCL members have consistently reported, the removal of these qualifications not only closes off progression opportunities for their students, but in many cases, sounds the death knell for their sixth form. 


The government launched the first stage of the consultation in summer 2019. Back then, few could have imagined that we’d still be awaiting a definitive list of which qualifications will be defunded – and when – over three years later. The DfE guidance from February 2022 (tinyurl.com/4vcmcbwk) used language that talks about not defunding “small” qualifications (‘single’ BTEC or A level size) if they “complement A levels”, for example, by having a practical component, such as for engineering. 

Perhaps the government has finally bowed to the inevitable – about a quarter of a million students study a Level 3 BTEC every year – but in contrast, there are presently just 7,000 T level students. So, “to ensure there are sufficient routes to HE in government priority subjects”, the government is now considering small qualifications even if there are A levels available in that same broad subject area. This is a change from the consultation proposal, which stated that “overlap” with A levels shouldn’t be allowed. 

Change in language 

So, how significant has the change in language been? The original language referred to “defunding most” BTECs. Towards the end of 2021, with the change in education secretary from Gavin Williamson to Nadhim Zahawi, we noticed a softening of language at the same time as the defunding timetable was pushed back by one year. The language then referred to “not defunding most”. And in a recent statement (tinyurl.com/5b5s6xbe) from Minister Baroness Barran, we heard that the government expects to “remove just a small proportion of the total level 3 BTEC/AGQ offer – significantly less than half”. 

What is the latest position? 

We finally saw what this means in practice when the government published its draft list of qualifications to be defunded from August 2024 (tinyurl.com/4w7fbkrp). There are 160 qualifications on the list that ‘overlap’ with the content in the first two waves of T levels (the ten T levels that started in 2020 or 2021). Of these, 38 are BTECs and for many schools and colleges, health and social care and IT qualifications on the list will cause the most concern. The number of students presently studying the affected qualifications across the country amount to more than 60,000. The defunding date of 1 August 2024 means the last start on a typical two-year qualification will be September 2023. But what does seem fairly positive at this stage is that many of the ‘singles’ (for example, the Subsidiary Diploma) don’t seem to have been included on the list. Awarding bodies can now appeal any of these qualifications if they wish. 

What are the next steps? 

What seems a safe bet is that funding approval will continue to be given to qualifications that support progression to specialist HE courses in areas not covered by T levels, for example, performing and creative arts. Where a qualification doesn’t overlap with a T level, and is designed to support progression to HE, it’ll be subject to approval criteria that apply to academic qualifications. We await further detail about the actual conditions applied to achieve this magical approval criteria. The government says it hasn’t pre-judged which subject areas will be funded in future and has specifically mentioned sports studies as having a clear role in its vision. Other subjects will “depend on the outcome of the approvals process and will include an assessment of the need for a particular qualification and its quality against the new approval criteria”. 

The list of the proposed defunded qualifications is undoubtedly influenced by political decisions. A change in education secretary or ministers could reflect a harder or softer stance on defunding. As the second part of TS Eliot’s quote remarks, “next year’s words await another voice”. 


ASCL campaigned for BTECs and other AGQs to remain, and the list of defunded qualifications would undoubtedly have been much greater without this campaigning. We’re interested in hearing your concerns or thoughts – please TellUs@ascl.org.uk and put ‘ BTEC defunding’ in the subject line. 

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist