With the first wave of T-Levels set to land in 2020, some progress is being made despite concerns from across the sector about the tight and ambitious timetable – just earlier in May, the Education Secretary rejected an official request to delay delivery by another year. They are currently being developed collaboratively between the Department for Education (DfE) and Institute of Technology (IfA)

Government announced in May the 52 providers who will roll-out the first wave of T-Levels with teaching beginning in 2020. Two local providers, Chichester College Group and the recently merged East Sussex College Group have received funding to implement and deliver these new technical education qualifications.  T-Levels are being phased-in over the next five years with full roll-out expected by 2023 – here’s an overview of what we know so far:

– A 2 year technical qualification at Level 3 that will replace Study Programmes

– 15 Industry Routes: 11 as T-Levels,  4 routes available as an Apprenticeship only

– Technical equivalent to 3 A-Levels

– T-Routes to offer pathway to higher technical education

– A-Levels to offer traditional pathway to degrees/higher education

– ‘Transition year’ to be developed for those not ready to undertake Level 3

– Increased hours of study from an average 600 to 900 hours per academic year

– Between 45-60 days on a work placement

– Maths & English at either GCSE or L2 Functional Skills (depending on employer standards)

– ‘Pass or Fail’ at the end of the qualification – learners must pass all core components as laid out here: T Level Programme Structure

– First teaching in 2020/21 across 3 routes (Education & Childcare, Construction Design, Digital)

– Course content for the first 3 routes has been developed and pending final approval

– Full roll-out of all routes by 2023

– To phase-out other vocational qualifications and Applied Generals

– Technical Education as a whole to sit within the IfA – taking on remit away from the DfE and soon to become IfATE (Institute of Technology and Technical Education)

– One single Awarding Organisation – tenders currently open with announcement February 2019

– Ofqual to regulate qualification

– £20 Million is supporting the initial development phases

– Funding rises to £500 Million per year predominantly to cover the additional learning time that will be required (in some cases, an increase of 50%)

T-Level content is being designed by panel members who have been selected as ‘industry specialists’ – a recent government announcement shows leading employers including The British Council, Toni & Guy and the Dogs Trust coming on board, giving ‘weight’ to T-Levels which will “help to create gold-standard T Levels that will give young people the skills that employers need”, says Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton.

The reform to technical education follows the Sainsbury Review and Post 16 Skills Plan which laid out plans to transform the current vocational route to ensure that we produce a highly skilled and sustainable workforce matched to industry demand and that meets our rapidly changing economy.  Current developments however still leave some unanswered questions prompting concern across the sector:

The Transition Year:

There is little to no detail on this yet the transition year is crucial to ensuring that learners who are not ready to study at L3 are fully supported to progress. Ian Petty, Director of the Collab group is calling for a sector-specific approach to ‘make sure the transition period appropriately prepares young people for the new T levels’ .  Government are clear that upon completion of GCSEs, learenrs will have the option to go onto A-Levels, T-Levels or an Apprenticeship. Could it be argued that a transition year should support the learner to progress onto either of these pathways should they be unsure or wish to change routes?

UCAS Points:

Many would assume that T-Levels will come with UCAS points, however this is still to be confirmed with some top universities saying earlier this year that they plan to reject applicants with T-Levels. The Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) argues that all T-Levels should come with UCAS points and that the DfE ‘should start work to integrate T levels with the college and university admissions infrastructure’.  This naturally is causing alarm across the sector; what happens to T-Level students who wish to change direction and want to study a degree? Will they find themselves ‘squeezed out’ of the system? Just as many Universities now accept BTECs, with these potentially set to be replaced by T-Levels, will this create a confusing and inconsistent admissions system?

High Risk?

This is high-risk qualification, both for learner and provider.  If a learner fails at the end of the two years they have no qualification other than perhaps Maths & English hugely impacting upon their progression options. However, their counterparts obtaining under-average A-Levels could still find themselves progressing onto a degree.

In order to meet the programme requirements, study hours will increase a third each academic year which places additional demands on both provider and learner. What of those learners with caring responsibilities, or with poor mental health who may already struggle with attendance on a current Study Programme? Access to the right, qualified teaching staff could also pose difficulties with some providers already struggling to recruit professionals with up-to-date industry expertise.

There will be one single Awarding Organisation (AO) appointed per T Route under an exclusive license. Despite market failure risks and indeed, the DfE recognising ‘concerns’ that the single AO route could “reduce market competition, choice and innovation”, tenders are currently open for the first three waves.

Work Placement:

There are many concerns around quality, logistics, value, capacity and a ‘postcode lottery’ about this component of the T-Level, echoed in a recent Employer Capacity report published by the DfE showing mixed views from Industry on the work placement element. Government have also said it would be ‘up to the employer’ as to whether they choose to pay the student on the placement. This surely calls for a standardised approach otherwise potentially unfair to many learners who may not be paid?

We will be updating information on T-Levels accordingly in our Policy & Strategy section. You can also visit the government website and Institute for Apprenticeships for news and developments.