In the UK, around 260,000 students are enrolled to the huge variety of BTEC qualifications available as part of their studies in further education. However, recent discussions have made clear that the government hopes to remove several of these qualifications. Many across the UK are questioning how they plan to replace these popular courses. As a student, it is vitally important to stay updated on the changes being made, particularly if you had planned to study BTECs in the future.
In July 2021, the government officially announced its decision to phase the BTEC qualification out of the public education funding scheme. Over the next few years, several major changes will be made to Level 3 education in the UK to aid students in choosing the right path for the next steps in their education after GCSEs. To replace BTECs, a newer set of qualifications, known as T-Levels, have been introduced.
By reading on, you’ll learn more about what T-Levels are, how they differ from BTECs and the government’s justification behind making the decision to scrap BTECs.
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Are BTECs Being Scrapped?
Although the prospect of BTECs being scrapped has been in the grape vine for several years, the summer of 2021 brought the formal announcement confirming the end of the qualification.
In a series of cuts made to funding in the education sector, BTECs lost their public funding. They were alongside many other lower-profile Level 3 qualifications whose financing was cut.
The first mention of removing the qualification came from the DfE in 2019, when they claimed something needed to change in terms of the transition from GCSE to further education. This article provides more information on the process being taken to scrap BTECs and some of the criticisms faced.
It was then in October 2020 that discussions were held looking for a replacement for the BTEC. To conclude these meetings, it was decided that this replacement would be the T-Level.
What is a T-Level?
Standing for “Technical Levels”, T-Levels are the next Level 3 qualification to be introduced in the UK and are the chosen replacement for BTECs. These new courses are equivalent in weight to three A-Levels and are studied over the same two-year period.
The purpose is essentially the same as with BTECs, in that T-Levels are designed to give students the transferrable skills required for the career of their choice, but with a greater focus on the practical work experience element, like in an apprenticeship. Effectively, T-Levels are the bridge between the two.
The qualifications have been developed with the assistance of industry professionals, so each course is tailored to the specific requirements of the industry, providing students with detailed, relevant information that pushes them in the right direction.
As T-Levels become a greater part of the educatory system, this article on the government website will continue to be updated with the relevant information regarding the introduction of T-Levels and their virtue over other qualifications.
How is a T-Level Structured?
There are a huge range of subjects available to take as T-Levels, and all of them follow the same basic structure. The qualification consists of two separate components: the technical exam and the industry placement.
The technical exam contains two written papers and a set project. The first of the papers tests a student’s knowledge of the theory behind the career, and their ability to apply these principles to practice in the real world.
The second of the papers varies depending on the qualification being taken, but usually takes a similar style to paper 1. It is called the “occupational specialisms” test. For example, in the Education and Childcare T-Level, paper 2 assesses skills in the pastoral, early years and assisted teaching sections.
After completing a written exam there will also be a practical, employer-set project to be completed as part of the technical exam. This is unseen and must be accomplished in a set window of time to the best standard possible.
Click here to see a Pearson Specification for the T-Level in Digital Production, Design and Development for an idea of how the qualification is structured. Read this article giving a broader overview of T-Levels in general.
How are T-Levels Graded?
The grading system for T-Levels is, again, very similar to that of both BTECs and A-Levels. For the first section of the technical exam, the written papers, you are awarded a grade from A*-E. For the occupational specialism, provided with either a pass, merit, distinction or distinction* from the employer.
The weight of each unit varies from course to course, so it can depend on the subject you take the T-Level in. Generally, the core component will define from 20-50% of the qualification and the occupational specialism therefore makes up between 50-80%.
The overall grade is then defined by how much of the final grade each element makes up. To get a detailed overview of how the combined grade will be calculated, click here.
Whilst the work placement is a vital and compulsory part of the T-Level, it doesn’t add any value to the final grade. The value comes in the skills and experience gained, so proof of the full 45 days has to be presented in order to receive the qualification.
Of course, as with all Level 3 qualifications, there are UCAS points to be earned. In order of highest to lowest, a distinction* earns 168 points, a distinction 144, a merit 120, a high pass 96 and a low pass with 72 points.
For more information on the UCAS grading system as well as yet more general facts about the whole grading process for T-Levels, click here.
What are the Benefits of BTECs Being Scrapped?
Obviously, the government is unlikely to remove a popular qualification from the educatory market without good reason, and so there are understandably several reasons and benefits to BTECs being discarded.
Officially, the main factor leading to the decision was the confusion expressed by GCSE students across the country who were overwhelmed by the massive, and slightly disorganised, range of different options available post-16.
So more than anything, the changes made over the next few years will be an effort to simplify the often-confusing system for students choosing their paths after finishing GCSEs.
One of the main concerns with BTECs was the lack of willing from universities to accept students onto courses if they had these qualifications instead of “proper” A-Levels, despite the grades received or UCAS points earned.
For those of you who are still currently studying BTECs and will be applying to university in the next few years, this article describes which universities are willing to accept BTECs and why.
Alongside this, the research presented in this article written by the Guardian suggests that students who take BTECs tend to do slightly worse at university. It could be said that this is unsurprising, particularly considering the nature of BTECs, where the academic content strays from what is generally studied at university.
T-Levels vs BTECs: Which is Better?
Seeing as T-Levels are the chosen replacement for BTECs, there are evidently several similarities between the two qualifications. However, a few crucial differences can be seen, starting with the structure of each.
Where BTECs can vary in the balance of practical and theoretical work from subject to subject, every T-Level follows a very consistent, set construction despite the content being different. T-Levels have been commended for their fusion of the BTEC teaching style with the industry placement inspired by the apprenticeship route.
The entry requirements for most BTECs are four simple pass grades, including English and Maths, whereas T-Levels need a slightly more challenging five GCSEs, preferably with a high pass (grade 5). Whether this is positive, or negative is a matter of opinion and depends on your standpoint.
One of the main benefits of T-Levels over both BTECs and apprenticeships, however, is that they keep your options wider open. Universities are shaky on accepting students with Level 3 apprenticeships and employers hesitate to take BTEC students with no experience straight away.
Because T-Levels bridge this gap, students could choose either to go straight into work, or to take a university degree and there should be no complication in being accepted to either.
To get an idea of the differences between BTECs and T-Levels and an overall opinion on which is better in greater detail, click here. (fake link to unreleased article)
When Will T-Levels Replace BTECs?
Despite their relatively new status, T-Levels actually do already exist. They have been offered since 2020, making this the first T-Level examination year. The plan is to form a cross-over period, as BTECs are phased out and additional T-Levels are introduced each year.
As of right now, ten different T-Level subjects are offered for all students across the UK. However, from September 2022, there will be a further six additions, and in September 2023, seven more courses will be introduced.
Effectively, what the government has done is condense over 300 relatively similar BTECs into just 23 T-Levels, to streamline the options accessible post-16. To see the full list of subjects planned and when they will be available to study, click here.
The original plan was to stop offering BTECs in 2023, but their funding has since been extended to the end of 2024, as explained in this Guardian article from November 2021, which you can see here.
Even in 2024, the most popular BTEC courses will still continue to be offered, as there have been several concerns over the lack of provision for either weaker students, or those who want to take subjects which cannot be offered by T-Levels or A-Levels.
It is important for students currently studying for BTECs to note that they will all be able to fully complete their qualifications under government funding, described further in the sections below.
What are Level 3 Qualifications?
When it came to looking at educatory background, it was often quite confusing for employers when students didn’t take the standard GCSE and A-Level qualifications. This is why the levels system was introduced, so that it was made blatantly clear that A-Levels and qualifications such as advanced apprenticeships carried the same weight.
Both BTECs and T-Levels fall under the Level 3 category, the same as A-Levels. Basically, any qualification which requires the prerequisites of GCSEs, or their equivalent, falls into this category.
Usually, Level 3s are what we consider people aged 16-19 to take (although, technically, there is neither an age limit nor requirement to take a course at any level.) It can also sometimes be called further education, in the same way that Level 6 university degrees are called higher education. You can click here to read more about what further education actually is.
This article released on the government website lists every qualification available to take and which level each falls under.
Which Other Level 3 Qualifications are Being Scrapped?
The main point of removing BTECs is to help reorganise the Level 3 qualification system for ease of choice. However, in order to do this, there needs to be more than one change. For this reason, lots of smaller Level 3 courses are being lost in the cuts as well.
As of 2024, the two main qualifications for post-16 education will be A-Levels and T-Levels, with the hope that any curriculum overlapping with either of these two can then be scrapped.
This includes but is by no means limited to applied general qualifications, which BTECs are classified as, alongside lots of other, smaller courses such as Cambridge Technical. There may also be several apprenticeships deemed “too similar” to the new T-Levels which may be removed.
Although this article is specified to BTECs and their replacements, it looks at the Level 3 qualifications reform in general, and hints at which other courses are likely to be scrapped.
How Many Institutions Plan to Offer T-Levels?
There are two types of school who will offer T-Levels in the UK: the ones who provide the course now, in the phasing period, and the ones who will offer it once every subject has been fully integrated into the educatory system.
Since the beginning of this academic year (September 2021), 64 schools and colleges across the UK have provided T-level qualifications for students taking post-16 education. However, the majority of these institutions only run the four most popular subject areas, which are construction, education and childcare, digital production and health and science.
From 2023, the hope is that near-on every sixth form college that was offering BTECs, will have transferred to the T-Level route. And the same applies to other educatory providers, such as schools.
To find a college near you which teaches the T-Level course you’re hoping to study, click here and use the government-run T-Level search engine.
Are There Any Concerns Over the New T-Levels?
As with any big change there are, of course, concerns from various parties. Many staff and students at colleges offering BTECs are having doubts about whether completely discarding a highly popular qualification is the right decision to make.
Roughly 40% of all students being accepted to university have a mixture of both BTEC and A-Level qualifications, and so the problem lies with what will happen for students who wish to continue doing this.
Unlike with BTECs and A-Levels, where students have the ability to mix and match, a T-Level is equivalent to three A-Levels. So it will no longer be possible for a combination of the two to be taken. These concerns have been voiced in greater detail throughout this article.
Education providers are equally as worried that some students may get left behind in the changes, particularly those who are either of lower abilities, or of certain minority groups who statistically, are more likely to take BTECs over A-Levels.
They believe there won’t be enough courses for students to take, and some adults will be disadvantaged short term as well, seeing as there is no provision for over-18s yet.
But despite the concerns raised and petitions asking the education secretary to rethink his plans to remove the funding from so many qualifications, the DfE has continued with their plan. The hope is that it will benefit students going into further education in the long term.
What Will Happen for Students Currently Studying BTECs?
For the next two years, any students who have already started taking BTECs will, of course, be allowed to complete their courses under public funding from the government, until the summer of 2023.
Whilst it will still be possible for students to start BTECs in September 2024, if the subject they wish to take has been directly labelled as one which will be removed, it is strongly advised that they don’t start the course.
Although government funding will still be available potentially to the end of 2026’s academic year or further, there is still the chance that the qualification could be disregarded. And by that point, most universities and employers will be focussing on the new T-Level system, so it may be difficult to apply for certain endeavours using a BTEC qualification.