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 go live in 2020, the government hope that they will 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’ll include:

  • Specific technical knowledge and practical skills.
      • Students will first be taught a broad core of knowledge relevant to all occupations in their chosen industry.
      • They’ll then specialise in a specific occupation and learn the required technical skills.
  • An industry placement with an employer, which will last for 45 working days.
  • Relevant maths, English, digital and common workplace skills.

What makes T levels different?

To ensure the skills system responds to the changing labour market, T levels are being 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 will 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 planned in:

Digital
Construction
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’ll then specialise in the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to achieve threshold competence in an occupational specialism.

T levels in digital, construction and education and childcare will initially be taught by a small number of providers from 2020. The remaining routes and a wider roll out will continue over the next two years.

Three main options for post-16 students

The addition of T levels will give 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 will 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…

Only time will tell if T levels will be chalked up as yet another empty major legislation or a sustainable route for young people. What’s positive is that (at time of writing) they appear to have the backing of all major political parties – what’s less positive is that the first three routes have already been delayed.

Our economic landscape highlights a clear need for skills and vocational training – but will T levels be the answer?

Got a bit more time?

If you're interested in the options available to students post-16 you might want to read...

  • T levels - more info at gov.uk
  • Apprenticeships - how Outward Bound work with employers/colleges to develop apprentices
  • A levels - how Outward Bound support secondary schools across the UK