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T Levels – The Future of Technical Education in the UK

Michael Lemin discusses the new T LevelsEducational services provider, NCFE’s Policy and Research Manager Michael Lemin, explains how the new technical qualifications, T Levels, will work, how they differ from existing qualifications and the benefits for young people.

The Government’s new flagship technical qualifications, T Levels represent a significant change in how technical education is taught and studied in England. Designed for learners aged 16-18, these new qualifications will be equivalent to three A Levels.
T Levels are being introduced to ensure that learners have access to well-respected vocational qualifications, as a credible alternative to A Levels. They are designed to create parity of esteem between academic and technical qualifications and ensure that the country has a world-class technical education system, developing students who can succeed in the modern economy and compete on a world stage. 

What are T Levels?

The concept of T Levels was first introduced in the Post-16 Skills Plan published in July 2016. The idea behind the plan was that at 16, following their GCSEs, students would choose to study either an academic (A Levels) or technical (T Levels) route. It set out 15 pathways based on the recommendations set out in the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education led by Lord Sainsbury, which recommended grouping technical education options by the skills required to work in 15 different industries. Within the 15 occupational maps, 11 have T Levels planned with the remaining 4 routes intended to be delivered through apprenticeships.
More than three years on, and after some initial setbacks, the first T Level qualifications are currently being developed by the chosen awarding organisations, including NCFE, in collaboration with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Department for Education. The first courses are set to be offered from September 2020, with phased roll-out of all pathways to be completed by 2023. T Levels will be two-year programmes aimed at 16 to 18-year olds, each one is made up of a technical qualification (TQ) that integrates maths, English and digital skills, includes an industry placement of up to 50 days and an employer set project. They will also be awarded UCAS tariff points in line with 3 A Levels. 
The content of the technical qualification will be based on the same occupational standards as apprenticeships, with their content defined by employers. It is made of up core knowledge, and occupational specialisms, which allow the learner to follow their desired path. The technical qualification and assessment will be developed by an awarding organisation. At the end of the programme, the student will be able to enter skilled employment in a particular occupation or to continue to study that technical subject at a higher level.

What does this mean for learners?

The introduction of T Levels will significantly reshape the technical qualifications landscape at Level 3, with the Government set to concentrate resources on these new qualifications and potentially withdrawing funding from others. The DfE will be reviewing the qualifications it currently funds at Level 3 and below, with a view to streamlining this and has been consulting on the subject. 
T Levels will become one of three major options when a learner reaches Level 3, alongside apprenticeships and A levels.

The first three T Levels, being launched in 2020, are: 
•    Education and Childcare
•    Digital Production, Design and Development 
•    Design, Surveying and Planning

From September 2021 they will be offered in: 
•    Digital Business Services
•    Digital support and services 
•    Health
•    Healthcare Science
•    Science
•    Building Services Engineering and Onsite Construction 

There are a further two waves to be launched, in 2022 and 2023 respectively. These will offer an additional 15 pathways for young people to choose from.

Where are T Levels being delivered?

The providers for the first wave of T Levels were announced in early 2019 and depending on where you live in the country, the chance of having a T Level delivered in your region varies. 
These providers will play an important role in ensuring more young people across the country can access these courses and help develop the skilled workforce the country needs for the future. 
More than 100 further education providers will be delivering T Levels by 2021, with the recent announcement of a further 64 colleges having been chosen to deliver wave two. 
A list of providers can be found here: Wave One and Wave Two. More are expected to be announced in the future, for Wave Three and Wave Four. 

How are T Levels different?

T Levels aim to prepare learners for careers in specific industries. They were designed by employers, who sat on T Level panels convened by the DfE developing the outline content, to ensure that students completing T Levels have the skills employers need and the knowledge and understanding to hit the ground running in their chosen profession. One of the key differences that sets them apart from other Level 3 qualifications though is the mandatory industry placement. 

How they can benefit young learners?

The T Level has been designed to help young people “secure a lifetime of sustained skilled employment” and to “meet the needs of our growing and rapidly changing economy” according to the Government. 
Those young people who complete a T Level will have completed a substantial work placement, helping them to develop ‘on the job’ skills and hands-on experience that will make them well prepared for a successful career in their chosen profession and an asset to employers. A key part of the T Level assessment will be achieving ‘threshold competence’, which will provide evidence of achievement in work-specific skills that show learners can work and succeed in their chosen industry.
They will also have a strong understanding of the realities of a job in their chosen sector that will help them to make the right choice regarding their next steps and ensuring that they chose the path that will help them to fulfil their potential.

Learners who complete these new technical qualifications will have a range of options for further study, including in:
•    higher or degree level apprenticeship
•    higher-level technical study, including higher education 
•    entering skilled employment in their chosen field.

For more information on NCFE and their qualifications, and the forthcoming T Levels, please go to www.ncfe.org.uk/t-levels. 

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