Tue,25 Apr 2023

Reforms of post-16 qualifications threaten racial equity in education

Government reforms of Level 3 (post-16) qualifications are threatening essential pathways to higher education for learners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, warns the Black Leadership Group (BLG).

Today, the Group, formed to challenge systemic racism in F/HE, schools, public, voluntary and private sectors, urged a re-think of the controversial plans, which include the national roll-out of T-Levels in September 2024 and the defunding of many applied general courses, such as BTEC Diplomas.

The Department for Education will next year publish a list of new qualifications to replace the current range of applied general qualifications. The defunding plans would come into effect in autumn 2025 and see support withdrawn for as many as 75 post-GCSE qualifications in England, according to the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

BAME students will be among the groups most disadvantaged by the changes because a disproportionately high number of them currently take applied generally courses as a route to university, says the BLG. The share of BAME students taking applied general qualifications is nearly double the background population (34% against 18%).

BLG director Amarjit Basi said: “It’s not just access to qualifications post-GCSE but also access to opportunities for progression through higher education that evolve from that. Research shows that students from BAME backgrounds are currently more likely to apply to university than their white counterparts. We also know that BAME students were under-represented on the first generation of the new T Level qualification.

“They are also more likely to use BTECs to gain access to vocational undergraduate programmes, which provide the prospect of them being able to secure a good job leading to a fruitful career. The Government reforms for England would effectively chop away the access ladder to higher education and sustainable employment for a disproportionately high number of BAME students.

“This is not about BAME students losing out because the bar is being raised in post-16 qualifications; after GCSEs, we already know that BAME students invariably outperform their counterparts at the age of sixteen. This is about ensuring highly popular routes to higher education and fulfilling careers for these students are supported.”

Ministers should be pitching the new, academically rigorous T-Levels against A-Levels, not applied general courses, such as BTECs, said Mr Basi. 

“The Government’s impact assessments of the reforms are wide of the mark, so today we are urging the Secretary of State for Education to halt the plans and instead carry out more research into how post-16 education can be improved for every student,” he said.

“The Government’s plans threaten to undermine racial equity in education so it must think again.”