A shear flexible finite element is formulated for linearly tapered, symmetrically laminated composite beams. The element has three nodes and 18 degrees of freedom. The three-node configuration is obtained from a five-node parent element by constraining the shear angle variation to be linear. The bending in two planes, twisting and stretching are considered. The performance of the element is tested with isotropic and composite materials, constant and variable cross-sections, and straight and curved geometries. The element proves to be accurate and versatile. The compatibility with plate and shell elements as a stiffener is assured through the use of simple nodal variables of C0-type.