T Levels

T levels are going to be tough

During the recent years of GCSE and A Level qualification upheaval a CEIAG practitioner working with young people has always had to have a quick mental check of future implementation dates before opening their mouths.

Another forthcoming change that (I hope) school based practitioners are now including in their guidance is the introduction (phased from 2020) of T Levels, a new qualification to be offered by Post 16 providers.

When anything new launches the challenge is to persuade potential first adopters that they will be making a choice that places them at the forefront of a soon to be popular wave and not left to flounder as initial enthusiasm dries to a dribble. I remember students gamely studying the 14-19 Diplomas despite being surrounded by teachers and parents who never understood the thing and who were then left high and dry after the Government PR push failed to inspire buy-in from important stakeholders.

We are promised that T Levels will be different and form one of the main choices for students in the Post 16 landscape alongside A Levels and apprenticeships when they begin to be introduced from September 2020. Many post 16 providers are already in the midst of preparing for them by working on new content outlines and building relationships with employers to offer longer and more in-depth industry placements.

Will, though, suitable advice and guidance about the qualification have percolated through schools and CEIAG practitioners to students and parents?

Getting the message out

It’s safe to say that the full complexities of the new GCSE grading system have still to land with a lot of parents/carers so getting across the workings of an entirely new qualification is going to be a challenge.

parents t levels

Added to the fact that, despite CEC optimism over benchmarks not withstanding, many secondary school pupils are not hearing directly from FE providers.

parents t levels1

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786040/survey_of_pupils_and_their_parents_or_carers-wave_5.pdf

So getting advice from the source might not be the norm and the central marketing which has already launched will have to work hard but the increased awareness of apprenticeships shows this can have an impact.

What should the message be?

Mainly that T Levels are going to be a demanding route of study that will be employment specific. They are a combination of learning

T Level courses will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include
    • core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
    • specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
  • an industry placement with an employer
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them

and each section is significant.

The baseline for the total programme hours matches the total learning hours for Level 3 BTEC Extended Diplomas

We expect the total time for a T Level to be around 1,800 hours over the 2 years, including the industry placement. This is a significant increase on most current technical education courses.

while the Industry Placement aspect takes up a great allowance of those hours meaning 16 year old starters will have to be work ready to impress employers enough to sign up to a significant programme of work experience.

Every T Level will include an industry placement with an employer focused on developing the practical and technical skills required for the occupation. These will last a minimum of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) but can last longer.

The academic learning required will also be of a high standard as evidenced by UCAS’ decision to award Tariff points equivalent to 3 A Levels.

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The content to be covered by each T Level is slowly being confirmed by the Institute of Apprenticeships as consultations complete.

A quick scan through any of those “Finalised Outine Content” will show readers that a lot of “stuff” has to be covered in both the Core knowledge and Technical Occupational Specialism components of the qualification and that the Specialism is a vital component. For some young people, the specificity of the route may be a turn off.

All of this though is meant to, according to the T Level Action plan not only prepare students for the workplace in their specialism but also provide a base of skills that will allows for progression onto Higher Education routes, thus the importance of the UCAS tariff inclusion despite reluctance to accept them from the Russell Group.

Entry requirements

In the past month the TES seemed baffled by the fact that these demanding Level 3 qualifications were being assigned entry requirements similar to other demanding Level 3 courses by the first cohort of providers recruiting students in 2020.

There is a point to their story that if, system-wide, choices for those school leavers who do not achieve GCSE qualifications that allow them to access A or T Levels narrow then those young people could be left with fewer options. Moving on from the obvious (“Huh, who knew, better GCSE grades give an individual more choice”) any rebuttal should be based on that it is not beholden on FE providers to lower entry requirements to qualifications that demand potential students to have the capacity to succeed at Level 3 (and wouldn’t be able to fit in GCSE retakes anyway). The rightly much maligned “parity of esteem” phrase beloved by politicians usually desperate for something to say about FE has an actual value here; you can’t possibly expect FE routes to achieve “esteem” by only offering routes for young people with low GCSE achievement. The other mitigating factor are the plans for a T-Level transition year for those

who are not ready to start a T level aged 16, but could be expected to complete one by 19.

It is always a challenge to elicit interest in young people about routes they know very little about and this challenge has been reflected in the small recruitment targets for the first wave of T Level providers. Perversely what might actually help recruitment though is the lack of knowledge of Applied General FE qualifications among stakeholders who say that they are trusted qualifications that offer good value and prepare young people for the world of work but then also claim that nobody really understands what their results mean.

applied general 1

If parents and potential students are already inspired by careers in any of the areas offered at a College local to them as a T Level, then that will probably be enough to tempt an application. Where CEIAG practitioners can offer support though is on the challenge to the young person and the work readiness needed to make those transitions a success.The reality of this and the entry requirements may alter the cohort of students they routinely talk to about FE altogether.