A growing number of white working-class students in England are using vocational qualifications rather than A-levels to access university courses, says one think tank.

The Social Market Foundation says this highlights a class divide with poor students being twice as likely to study a vocational course, such as BTEC’s, in comparison with their middle-class peers.

The Foundation says it has examined data for students accepted onto a university degree course in 2016 and if they had BTEC’s or A-levels.

The report says that BTECs are for sixth formers the most popular vocational qualification.

The organisation says that the numbers opting to take at least one vocational course trebled in number between 2006 and 2014.

Now, around 45% of students with parents in manual or routine jobs have studied BTEC’s or a mix of vocational courses and A-levels compared with 22% of students whose parents are in professional and higher managerial roles.

Accepted onto a university course held at least one BTEC qualification

The data also highlights that 47% of students who live in England’s most disadvantaged areas were accepted onto a university course had one BTEC qualification at least compared with 19% of those from areas who had a high incidence of university participation.

The Social Marketing Foundations report says: “Vocational qualifications are an important route when we look at those from low socio-economic backgrounds and low participation areas.”

The report also reveals that 48% of black students who were accepted onto a university course have one BTEC qualification at least.

The organisation’s director James Kirkup said: “Vocational qualifications offer the ladder that enables many people who do not come from a privileged background to get into university.”

Vocational qualifications have been ignored traditionally

However, he warns that vocational qualifications have been ignored traditionally in favour of those students with traditional academic qualifications such as A-levels.

Mr Kirkup added: “To make Britain’s university system fair and open to all, ministers, higher education leaders and the Office for Students must work to remove barriers that keep many ethnic minority and poor people out of higher education.”

The report says there is ‘institutional snobbery’ against vocational exams.

When the figures are analysed, 35% of white working-class students in the north-east have entered University with only vocational qualifications.

The organisation says that there is a regional divide and fewer people in the south of England are applying to university with vocational qualifications.

A-levels dominating all political debate about University entry criteria

The think tank says this growing social divide is now producing an ‘unhelpful bias’ in the education system with A-levels dominating all political debate about University entry criteria.

Their report makes clear that by the seizing on A-level results means that universities do not always give the recognition or support to those applicants who have only vocational qualifications.

Mr Kirkup says: “For too long politicians and the media have ignored and belittled the vocational route because politics is dominated by those who took the traditional route of A-levels and then on to university.

“Most of those who run the country did not do BTEC’s and they do not come from backgrounds where BTEC’s matter most.”

More information

The Social Market Foundation has published their report on vocational qualifications.