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An uncertain future for T Levels?

A recent article in the TES suggests that the introduction of T Levels could be
shelved, in order to repurpose government funds for ‘no deal’ Brexit planning. A joint
statement from the HM Treasury and Philip Hammond states that over 25
government departments have gone through a ‘needs-based funding process’, in
order to find an additional £2 billion. The Times reports that funding for T Levels is
one of the financial commitments considered vulnerable. The funding allocated for
ensuring the introduction of T Levels, could be subject to reprioritisation in order to
find some of the newly needed ‘Brexit £2 Billion’.
A silver lining for T Levels came as MPs backed measures to ‘thwart’ no-deal Brexit
preparations. The BBC reported that an amendment to the Finance Bill, which limits
spending on no-deal preparations passed 303 votes to 296.

But what are T Levels? What are the facts, who champions them and what do the
critics have to say?

The Facts.

T Levels are 2 year courses, designed to give post-GCSE students an alternative to


A levels. They are designed to offer students a mixture of classroom or workshop
based learning and on-the-job experience. In fact, on-the-job experience is the main
difference between T Levels and the existing vocational qualifications – learners
must undertake a minimum of 45 working days on industry placement. T Levels will
be phased in during the 20/21 academic year, meaning the young people joining
Further Education in September 2020 will be the first to undertake these new
qualifications. Students can choose qualifications based in 11 different industries,
ranging from Digital to Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care. Although, only
three T Levels will be running in 2020, Digital, Construction and Education. The
remaining pathways are to be phased in subsequent academic years. T Levels form
one of three educational choices post-16. They sit alongside apprenticeships and A
Levels to offer a route into skilled occupations, higher level apprenticeships and
Higher Education. For students ‘not ready’ to start a level 3 programme, the DfE
plans to offer a ‘transition’ to help students get to the standard required - although it
must be said there is no mention of how this ‘transition’ will look, or if/how it will
relate to the current level 1 and 2 vocational provision.

Discussion

‘Leave it a year’. This was the advice of Anne Milton, as reported in the TES. Anne
Milton is the current Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, so her response
when asked if she would let her children partake in T Levels when they launch in
2020, doesn’t exactly instil confidence in the new qualification. Indeed, the DfE
proposed a one year delay to the introduction of the T Levels, although this was
rejected by Education Secretary Damien Hinds, who was ‘convinced of the case to
press ahead’. Professor Ewart Keep of Oxford University discusses a number of
potential issues with T Levels. He suggests that some a large number of students
could run out of funding before they achieve – much of the intake into FE is students
at level 1 and 2 and much of the effort, and funding, will go into getting students to
meet the entry profile required. Secondly, where are all the work placements coming
from? Professor Keep suggests that employers could be bombarded with
uncoordinated requests from a number of educational establishments, seeking
placement opportunities. In a review of the initial industry placement pilots, the IES
documents that one of the biggest challenges was just this – it was challenging to
engage employers. Those that did engaged described a mismatch in the actual and
expected skills the learners possessed. In addition, FE Week documented that the
AOC described the 45 day minimum work experience placement for every student as
‘impossible’. Despite these criticisms, some are championing the cause for T Levels.
The Guardian suggest that T Levels could improve Britain’s level of productivity,
bringing us in line with the US and Germany. Contrary to their previous comments,
the AOC suggest that T Levels can play a big part in lessening the skills gap in many
key industries. STEM industries in particular have a large percent of vacancies
deemed hard to fill, T Levels could help to lessen the skills shortages. These
comments are echoed by FE News, who suggest that T Levels are a fantastic
opportunity to produce a system that meets the needs of employers, students and
the wider economy as a whole.

The future looks somewhat uncertain for T Levels, be it through lack of funding,
scepticism from potential placement providers or even colleges failing to implement
them correctly. One thing that is a certainty though, they need to be fit for purpose.
The futures of the young people enrolling onto these qualifications in 2020 relies on
their suitability.