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College addresses employment need

Walsall College has taken action to address a regional employment need in the wake of Government plans to defund some BTEC qualifications.

The move comes after the Government announced that from 2024, 160 Level 3 qualifications would be defunded due to apparent overlaps with T-levels.

Walsall College recognised the gap this would leave in several curriculum areas and as a result, the college has announced the introduction of a suite of hybrid A-levels that will not only fill the void left by the defunct BTECS, but also meet local employment market needs.

With T-Levels presented as the Government’s flagship technical qualifications, sitting alongside A-levels as their academic equivalent, funding will cease for those BTECs where it is considered that there’ll be duplication with the increasing number of T-Levels on offer. 

However, as Richard Brennan (assistant principal with responsibility for curriculum at the college) said the reality was less clear-cut and risked cutting off a vital supply of suitably-trained personnel to the local workforce.

“The three-way split of academic, technical, and hands-on vocational options that the Government is creating with its focus on A-levels, T-levels and apprenticeships makes sense, on face value at least. The devil, however, is in the detail and it quickly became apparent to us that several hugely popular BTECs would disappear without a clear alternative amongst what remains. 

“Our announcement not only addresses that but does so in a way that will support young people to gain a valuable technical education that is directly supported by regional employers and FE providers.”

The first hybrid A-levels being launched by Walsall College will be focused on the legal and science sectors.  Learners who would have previously studied for a BTEC in Law, will now enrol to study A-level Law, A-level Psychology and a Diploma in Criminology. The science pathway, meanwhile, will be comprised of two A-levels (chosen from Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and a BTEC Extended Certificate in Applied Science.

Significantly, the new courses are being approached as a cohesive suite of qualifications taught by a clearly defined group of staff. They’ve each been designed with the local economy in mind and have secured support from several regional employers who have committed to providing work placements for the students. 

Nadine Bila, director at Bila Legal Services, who works with Walsall College to provide students with work placements, said: “Supporting students with the opportunity to spend time in a work environment as part of their studies is an invaluable component of their overall learning experience. They gain insights, knowledge and experience that provides them with the confidence to excel and become work ready.  This in turn strengthens their chances when entering the workplace following their studies, as well as their retention within it thereafter. 

“As an employer, taking on students who have tangible experience gained in the workplace can be a huge benefit. They enter employment ready to focus on the job in hand and with an awareness of what’s expected of them. I salute Walsall College for introducing the hybrid A-level in Law as it will support not only my business, but the wider legal services sector across the West Midlands.”

The new courses also provide learners with the option to go on to study at university with progression agreements currently being finalised with Newman University, Birmingham City University, The University of Wolverhampton, and University College Birmingham. 

Richard Brennan said: “We are initially focusing on progression agreements with HE providers in the West Midlands as a means of addressing the economic challenges that many young people face when they need to move away to continue their studies. 

"These relationships will allow students who progress through our hybrid pathways to go on to further study without needing to leave the region. We will continue to extend the reach of those HE providers as further hybrid pathways come on stream.

“The enthusiasm with which regional HE providers are welcoming our new course suites vindicates our decision to make this bold move and we’re confident that they’ll quickly gain further support.”

From September 2023, Walsall College also plans to offer pathways focused on the creative arts sector, business and marketing, and engineering.