Three T Levels to be Launched in 2020

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The government has announced that it is launching the first three T Levels in the Autumn of 2020. But what are T Levels, and will they help deliver the government’s skills strategy?

The government is pushing ahead with plans to roll out new post-16 qualifications called T Levels from September 2020.

The new qualifications are part of the government’s industrial strategy and are aimed at getting young people more employment-ready.

Education Secretary Dominic Hinds said that T Levels represented “the most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years” and that they will “provide a high-quality, technical alternative to A levels ensuring thousands of people across the country have the skills we need to compete globally – a vital part of our modern industrial strategy.”

T Levels involve two years of study, including a three-month work placement. While T Levels are equivalent to three A levels – and indeed sit alongside apprenticeships and A levels as a post-16 option – you study T Levels in one subject only.

Like the apprenticeship standards, T Level content is worked out in partnership with employers and approved by the Institute of Apprenticeships.

The government has so far approved three T Level routes:

  • Digital route: Software applications design and development
  • Construction route: Design, Surveying and Planning
  • Education and Childcare route: Education

A further 22 courses – in subjects covering sectors like finance and accounting, engineering and manufacturing, and creative and design – will roll out over 2021. The government has already selected the providers – mostly FE colleges and schools – tasked with delivering the first three new qualifications.

The government developed the qualifications because existing education and skills training were not equipping students with the capabilities that employers need. While apprenticeships are also aimed at filling the skills gap, T Levels differ from apprenticeships by involving more study time – around 1800 hours rather than the 20% ‘off-the-job’ training.

The government argues that T Levels will suit individuals who do not want to take A levels – the more academic pathway – but also aren’t ready to commit to a profession or to become an employee, which is what apprenticeships offer.  

Commentators have been swift to point out issues of implementation. Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for HE, FE and Skills, for example, said in FE Week that the government should do more work on “due diligence and detail,” pointing to the need for more funding than the £500 million per year promised.

And Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), argued in FE Week that the government’s technical skills’ strategy needs to be anchored in properly legal and accountable relationships with the private sector. Employers need to be “more visible and accountable,” he said.

FAB has been critical of the government’s awarding body procurement process, which permits what they believe is a ‘monopoly’ of one awarding body per T Level.

But implementation aside, the arrival of T Levels has been welcomed as another approach to equalise academic and technical routes and a critical plank in addressing the skills shortage.

“Our research confirms that England suffers from an overemphasis on bachelor’s degree level study, and we welcome the government’s renewed focus on higher level technical qualifications, which have long been undervalued,” said David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, commenting in the Tes.

“Giving employers a greater role in the development of these qualifications will help ensure that young people gain the specialist skills to meet the needs of the labour market both now and in the future,” he said.

Will T Levels help to deliver a better balance in our educational offering? Can they help to meet the skills gap? Time will tell.

Did you know: Alongside the delivery of apprenticeships, Aptem can be configured to handle all other ESFA funding mechanisms, including traineeships, study programmes, AEB funded vocational courses, advanced learner loans and T levels.

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