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T-level drop-outs switch to courses due for axe

Nearly all students that dropped out of the second wave of T-levels switched to a course that is set to be scrapped through controversial government plans.

It has sparked renewed calls for the government to abandon proposals that involve defunding a host of level 3 qualifications in the next two years and for Labour to meet its commitment to “pause and review” the reforms.  

The Department for Education’s latest T-level action plan, published in April, confirmed a third of students who started one of the qualifications in 2021 left the programme early.  

A total of 5,321 students enrolled in 2021, but only 3,510 completed. Of the third that withdrew, 370 did an apprenticeship, 716 transferred to another course and 682 left education.  

But freedom of information data obtained by sister title FE Week shows 90 per cent of students that switched to other technical or vocational courses chose a qualification that will be axed by 2026 under Tory reforms. 

Seventy students, one in ten, swapped T-levels for A-levels, another 50 did a different academic qualification and six did a different T-level. 

But 145 students, one in five, moved to a lower level 1 or level 2 qualification.  

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said defunding non T-level qualifications and funding limited alternatives will result in more students choosing lower-level courses in their post-16 choices.

Defunded options

Three in five (439) switchers moved to an applied general, tech level or vocational and technical qualification (VTQs).   

These have been earmarked to lose public money, either because they overlap with T-levels or because they don’t meet the government’s criteria for “reformed” level 3s.  

Analysis by the SFCA shows 397 of the 439 students switched to qualifications that will be axed. 

Kewin said: “It’s hard to fathom how ministers can look at this sort of data and conclude it is in the best interests of students to plough ahead with the plan to scrap most non T-level qualifications. 

“The government remains determined to remove the safety net provided by these qualifications, despite the data published today showing the very obvious dangers of doing so.” 

Introducing T-levels has not in itself been controversial, with many in the sector supportive in principle because of the extra teaching hours, higher per-student funding rates and generous capital funding for colleges and schools. 


But removing public funding from rival qualifications and heavily restricting other options has been one of the most controversial education policies of the Conservative government. 

Kewin, who leads the Protect Student Choice campaign coalition of 28 school, further and higher education organisations, said he “looks forward to a very different approach being adopted after next week’s election”. 

Last June, the campaign secured a commitment from Labour to “pause and review” the defunding of qualifications if it won power. 

Seema Malhotra, the shadow skills minister, said in October Labour “will work with colleges to develop the skills Britain needs through a pause and review of the disruptive defunding of qualifications”. 

But the promise was absent from this month’s Labour manifesto. 

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