With the end of a difficult and chaotic 2021 in sight, it is time to explore the things that happened in the education sector this year that did not get the needed attention due to the pandemic. This is Education, Uncovered.
Nationwide, less than 5% of white students from working class backgrounds are represented at over half of England’s universities. One of the constituencies with the most people from working class backgrounds happens to be in the North East. Also, half of working class and black British students are more likely to get admitted to universities on the basis of their BTEC or other vocational qualifications. What do these have to do with each other?
Thinktanks such as the Social Market Foundation called on the government in 2018 to raise the profile and respectability of vocational qualifications including BTECs. So what did they do instead? Decide to strip funding from many BTEC qualifications in order to focus on academic A-Levels and vocational T-Levels.
Currently, universities across the country have mixed (to put it mildly) approaches to entry requirements across their degrees. For example, here are the entry requirements for an undergraduate Sociology degree from four different universities:
- Cambridge – A*AA (no mention of UCAS points with no subject requirement)
- Newcastle University – ABB (no mention of UCAS points with no subject requirement)
- Northumbria University – 120 UCAS points (no subject requirement but ‘From a combination of acceptable Level 3 qualifications’)
- Durham University – AAB A-Level or DDD BTEC (no mention of UCAS points or subject requirement but ‘applicants who have studied at least one strongly essay-based subject prior to entry will be better prepared for this course and preference may be given to’)
These BTEC cuts aren’t happening in a vacuum and are not the only financial crisis to hit the Further and Higher Education sectors. Once students find themselves at universities, then they may find that funding for certain art degrees have been cut, if recent proposals get approved. Universities can’t seem to catch a break at the minute, and bodies representing university staff alongside school staff expressed their concerns.
Current education policy as created and implemented by the government seems to include a stigma surrounding BTEC qualifications. This is alongside some humanities degrees being demonised.
Is this part of a wider agenda to demonise working class students and deter them from Higher Education?
The funny thing is that my route to academic studies was not that conventional, as I did a Childcare and Early Years Education vocational course with the hope of being an early years practitioner. For personal medical reasons that didn’t work out.
However I did manage to get the 120 UCAS tariff points needed to go onto my undergraduate degree. And it turns out that the coursework component of the course better prepared me for a degree where I haven’t needed to do an exam. Whether students end up using a vocational qualification in the ‘expected’ way or not, they do provide transferrable skills and experiences that are useful in Higher Education, not just in the linked field.
So let’s not demonise an entire set of qualifications just because a high percentage of people from working class backgrounds (including those born and raised in our region) get into universities with them.
- Level 3 Qualifications – An umbrella term covering a variety of qualifications may take after passing their GCSEs, including A-Levels, BTECs and T-Levels.
- A-Levels – An academic qualification that many students take after passing their GCSE’s. These qualifications focus more on academic subjects including English Language/Literature, Maths and History, and are often assessed via examinations, similar to GCSE’s. Students often take 3 of these
- T-Levels – A new Level 3 qualification set up by the government that focuses more on giving students workplace based skills, with a mixture of classroom learning and industry placements. This is the equivalent of 3 A-Levels.
- Apprenticeships – unlike T-Levels, as the focus for apprenticeships is weighted mostly towards “on the job” training.
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