The Government believes land-based courses are not rigorous enough. Following the 2011 Wolf Report, education secretary Michael Gove pledged to "reform league tables and funding rules to remove the perverse incentives that have devalued vocational education".
Land-based courses will not be judged for the 2015 league tables, but sport and hair and beauty will. This has dismayed education professionals and led employers to air concern about the skills gap widening.
Hadlow College faculty head Sarah Morgan said: "There is an outcry in the few land-based colleges that have survived. Horticulture is rarely perceived as a career choice in schools and colleges struggle to recruit."
According to the latest forecast figures from sector skills council Lantra, the industry needs 60,000 new entrants between 2010 and 2020 just to replace older people already in jobs.
Lantra director of development and evaluation Mike Smith said: "We are concerned. We are just completing research about provision for 14-19-year-olds. Having something for that age group is very important for the sector. We have got difficulty in recruiting people and not having something that's recognised in performance tables won't help." (See www.change.org.)
An online petition by specialist Brymore School in Somerset attracted 1,953 signatures and Wells MP Tessa Munt raised the issue in the House of Commons.
Head teacher Mark Thomas said removing the two BTECs meant that for his pupils it will look "in effect like they have failed two subjects", leading to a bad Ofsted report that could trigger Government intervention.
RHS director-general Sue Biggs said the Government is not using "joined-up thinking" on horticultural education and she will take it up when discussing the Horticulture Matters report with the coalition (see p7).
A Department for Education representative said: "Vocational training needs transforming for young people in today's job market."