What the devil is a T level?
Back to our blog

What the devil is a T level?

Before we begin here’s a quiz for you…
Fake or for real?

Excluding GCSEs and A/AS levels there are 11,900 publicly funded qualifications available to students aged 19 or under.

For real! Yes, we were shocked too! With so many options, how are students, educators and employers able to decide which are good, bad or downright ugly?

Since the 1980s there have been 28 major pieces of legislation relating to vocational, FE and skills training.

For real! With six different ministerial departments and 49 secretaries of state in this time, we’re almost surprised it’s only 28.

T levels are going to replace all other vocational qualifications.

Fake! Not quite, but as these quiz questions have hopefully shown, reform is needed. When T levels went live in 2020, the government aim was to simplify options, giving students aged 16-18 a widely recognised technical alternative to A levels and will help them to get a skilled job.

What are T Levels?

T levels are two year, technical study programmes for 16-19 year olds. Their purpose is to ensure students have the knowledge and skills needed to progress into skilled employment or higher level technical training.

They include:

  • An industry placement with an employer, which will last for 45 working days.
  • Relevant maths, English, digital and common workplace skills.
  • Specific technical knowledge and practical skills.

Students are first taught a broad core of knowledge relevant to all occupations in their chosen industry. They then specialise in a specific occupation and learn the required technical skills.

What makes T levels different?

To ensure the skills system responds to the changing labour market, T levels are designed with employers, providers and other partners (just like the apprenticeship standards) so that young people learn the skills that industry actually needs. They are being founded on two key principles:

Co-creation: shaping occupational standards and designing wider T Level content.
Co-delivery: employers offer industry placements to T level students so they can apply the knowledge and skills they have learnt in college.

What's on offer

There are 11 technical routes:

Education and childcare
Engineering and manufacturing
Health and science
Legal, finance and accounting
Hair and beauty
Agriculture, environment and animal care
Business and administration
Catering and hospitality
Creative and design

These routes group together occupations with similar knowledge, skills and behaviours. In each route there are then pathways, which provide further groupings of occupations with similar requirements, giving an indication of possible career progression. This sets the scope for each T level.

Regardless of route choice, all student's learning will start broad covering concepts and theories relevant across the entire route. They then specialise in the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to achieve threshold competence in an occupational specialism.

Three main options for post-16 students

The addition of T levels in 2020 gave students aged 16-19 three main options:

  • T levels for students who want a broad base of occupational knowledge
  • Apprenticeships for students who wish to learn a specific occupation ‘on the job’
  • A levels for students who wish to continue academic education

Students who choose the T level option can then be able to choose between moving into:

  • A skilled occupation
  • Higher or degree level apprenticeships
  • Higher level technical study, including higher education
In conclusion...

Have T-Levels had the success the government hoped?

Yes! But, the answer isn't quite as straightforward as that.

A major aim was to streamline the post-16 education options on offer, which you could argue they have started to do.

2022 saw the first T-Level students receive results. According to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, 92% of students achieved a pass or above and 71%, of those students who applied for a university course were successful. Many others secured an apprenticeship or a job.

A positive start with great results. However, concerns started to grow around the speed of roll of many T-Level programmes as well as the conflict and impact on established and popular BTec courses.

According to the BBC, the overall pass rate in 2023 for the 3,448 students taking the qualification was 90.5% (3,119). However, figures showed that only two-thirds completed the course (5,210 students began a T-level three years ago).

In terms of education qualifications, T Levels are still certainly still in their early years. It will be a case of 'watch this space' to see how their development continues to shape the post-16 qualification landscape.

Empowering Future Leaders: Transforming Early Careers Talent through Outdoor Learning

Join us on 28 March for a webinar exploring strategies to engage and enrich your emerging leaders

Got apprentices?

If you're an employer or training provider and work with apprentices, check out we could work together to accelerate your apprentices' development