T Levels are 2 year programmes ‘equivalent’ to 3 A levels which will be available from September 2020. T levels have been developed with employers and are being designed to meet the needs of business and prepare young people for work. T Levels will be available in 25 subject areas and will initially be available in the following three subjects from September 2020:
- Digital production, design and development
- Design, surveying and planning
In due course T Levels will also be available in:
- Agriculture, land management and production
- Animal care and management
- Building services engineering
- Craft and design
- Cultural heritage and visitor attractions
- Design, development and control
- Digital business service
- Digital support and services
- Hair beauty and aesthetics
- Healthcare science
- Human resources
- Maintenance, installation and repair
- Management and administration
- Manufacturing and process
- Media, broadcast and production
- Onsite construction
T Levels are designed to include a technical qualification (focused on core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area), specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation, a 45 day (315 hours) industry placement will also be mandatory. T Levels will also include a minimum standard in maths and English unless they have already been successfully achieved by a learner.
T Levels will have an overall grade; pass, merit or distinction, a separate grade for the occupational specialism; pass, merit or distinction a separate grade for the core component A* to E, grades for maths and English qualifications and details of the 45 day industry placement (now specified as minimum hours).
To support delivery DfE will provide an additional £500m pa once T levels have been fully rolled out to cover the costs of additional teaching hours and organising industry placements.
HEI engagement in T levels has, to date, been minimal. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) was recently commissioned to provide a T Level support programme for the ‘sector’, the sector being defined as FECs and Independent Training Providers. More encouragingly, DfE recently appointed an official to work with HEIs on T level engagement. In terms of progression to HE the DfE have been very clear that T levels are ‘employment focused’, to support progression they do, however, intend that T levels will have UCAS tariff points and that progression will be facilitated by local FEC/HEI partnerships. In DfE surveys of parents the need for T levels to have ‘parity’ with A levels has, unsurprisingly been identified as a key issue in ensuring success. DfE wants T Levels to be aspirational, but at the same time wants to attract more young people from disadvantaged cohorts to study T Levels.
For DfE (and IfATE which is increasingly focused on T Levels, particularly through its T level panels) the key challenges in the successful implementation of T levels revolve around:
– Ensuring strong employer support, particularly in the provision of industry placements and recruitment of young people completing T levels. Here T levels will compete head on with Apprenticeship provision
– Having sufficient teaching staff with the right expertise and facilities to deliver T Levels
– Linked to both the above the ability of providers, particularly with the industry placement to offer T levels in all localities e.g. rural and coastal localities
– Arguably an uncertainty in purpose and target cohort and general understanding of the somewhat complex content and grading structure
– The relationship with and competition from Applied Generals
– In the context of a long history of questionable offerings; GNVQs, Diplomas creating a trusted product and brand that can compete with the A Level and Apprenticeships.
The Position of Applied Generals
The headline position is that Government wants 16 year-olds to have three choices; A levels, T levels and Apprenticeships (in line with Sainsbury recommendations). A levels lead to ‘academic’ higher education while in contrast T levels and Apprenticeships are focused on employment, with the possible option of progression to some form of higher technical education/apprenticeships.
Whether and the extent to which Applied Generals have a future is open to debate. From an HEI perspective, the statistics on Applied Generals and Tech level qualifications are worth considering:
Around 200,000 16 – 18 year-old students took Applied Generals or Tech Level qualifications in 2018. In comparison over 300,000 took A levels. Some students took a combination of qualifications. Around 20% of 18 year olds applying to university hold at least one Applied General/Tech Level. Figures, of course vary between HEIs, we know of one large HEI who confirmed that 40% of their recruit had an Applied General qualification.
Applied Generals are, of course, very different to T levels. T levels are far larger and far more focused on a specific occupation – they require a 45 day industry placement, incorporate the concept of ‘threshold competence’ and have a link to Apprenticeship standards. Indeed, T levels are sometimes seen as a college based alternative to Apprenticeships, T levels with 80% delivery in college and 20% in the workplace and Apprenticeships with 20% delivery in college and 80% in the workplace. Applied Generals are focused on a broader occupation area and more suitable for an individual not yet ready to make a choice of specific occupation. Given the requirement for an industry placement it seems unlikely that all T levels will be available in all localities. Applied Generals given their size, can unlike T Levels also be combined with A Levels.
HEIs have undertaken substantial work with FE providers to develop progression routes for individuals with Applied Generals to and through HE. Such work has widened participation and supported social mobility. Applied Generals are reasonably well understood by key individuals in HE (admissions and course staff). The discontinuation of Applied Generals would have profound implications for many HEIs in recruitment of the non-A level cohort. One way to help protect the Applied General would be to argue that it should be presented as part of the A level ‘family’ i.e. A levels/Applied Generals would be one category with (at level 3) Apprenticeships/T levels being the second.