Education secretary damns existing vocational exams with faint praise

Janet Downs's picture
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The new education secretary Gavin Williamson is, he says, the first one ‘to personally take charge of further education and skills’.   You would expect him, then, to applaud successful BTEC students receiving results yesterday.

And he did – but only up to a point.

His congratulatory address to students studying vocational qualifications was limited to those who took ‘Level 3 qualifications such as BTECs’.   No accolade was forthcoming to students who achieved Levels 1 or 2.

It appears the education secretary thinks any vocational certificate lower than a Level 3 isn’t worth praising. 

His opening salvo says it all:

This week is the culmination of years of hard work for thousands of young people.  It is right that their efforts are celebrated across the country as well as on the front pages – but getting a good set of A levels and then a degree is only half the story’.

Remember – Williamson was supposed to be congratulating those who received vocational qualifications (albeit Level 3 only).  But he restricts his praise to A levels leading to a degree.  Perhaps this needs rewriting.  Something like this, perhaps:

Getting a vocational qualification gains entry to a wide range of careers and the opportunity to study further.’

To give Williamson his due, he does mention ‘other post16 qualifications’.  But it’s after a long spiel promoting the new ‘T Levels’.  These will be the ‘technical gold standard’ for pupils post-16, equivalent to A level and ‘as stretching as their academic equivalents’.

This implies that other Level 3 vocational exams will not be as worthwhile as T Levels.  But while existing vocational exams such as BTEC are already embedded, widely understood and available nationally, T levels are untested and only available in a few centres.

Williamson says he is responsible for further education and skills.  His support, then, must cover all post-16 courses including entry level and Levels 1 and 2.  Appearing to value only Level 3 does a disservice to thousands of students.

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