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T levels

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You may have heard that the government has firmed up plans to release new post-16 technical qualifications called 'T levels', with financial investment confirmed and the first courses set for 2020. But what are T levels? Which 16-year olds should take them? Are there any pros and cons? Read on to find out more.

What are T levels?

T levels are new technical qualifications that will offer young people vocational training as an alternative to A-levels. Former Education Secretary Justine Greening says that courses will be developed alongside leading businesses to give young people a clear path towards particular careers by grouping together "related occupations which require common knowledge, skills and behaviours". The subjects on offer will be more broad-ranging than the old NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications), and a broader base of educational institutions will provide them compared to BTECs, which are owned by Pearson Education.

When will they be introduced?

T level courses will be developed and phased in between 2020, when the first ones will be taught, and 2022, when many more courses will be rolled out.

Why are T levels being introduced?

The government intends that T levels will simplify and improve vocational training in England, plugging a skills gap in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and providing employers with education leavers already prepared for the workplace. With this in mind, T levels have been developed with input from businesses who have been able to suggest what they want the courses to achieve. Although plans for T levels were first outlined in 2016, Chancellor Philip Hammond has recently announced an additional investment of £500m, which has ensured their introduction to the education landscape in the near future. Justine Greening said the government is transforming technical education and developing home-grown talent: "The academic option is already well regarded, but the technical option must also be world class."

What subjects can be studied?

15 pathways (routes into employment) will be developed in 15 sector areas which will benefit from technical training, but not all of them will launch in 2020.

The first three areas of study for 2020 have been announced as:

  • Childcare and Education
  • Construction
  • Digital

By 2022, it's expected that technical routes will be available in all of the following areas:

  1. Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
  2. Business and Administrative
  3. Catering and Hospitality
  4. Childcare and Education
  5. Construction
  6. Creative and Design
  7. Digital
  8. Engineering and Manufacturing
  9. Hair and Beauty
  10. Health and Science
  11. Legal, Finance and Accounting
  12. Protective Services
  13. Sales, Marketing and Procurement
  14. Social Care
  15. Transport and Logistics

Who can take T levels?

Those aged from 16+ who will most likely benefit from technical training with an obvious route into a career ahead of the traditional route of A-levels are target candidates, because T levels will provide them with vocational rather than academic qualifications.

Where will courses be offered?

T levels will only be available in England (because education is devolved in the regions). Courses are more likely to be taught in colleges rather than schools owing to the technical nature of the studies and the extra equipment that may be needed. While only a small number of education providers will offer the first three qualifications from 2020, it’s expected that many more will be available the following year, with expansion continuing through to 2024, by which time T levels will be available to study at many colleges. Further clarification on which educational establishments will offer the initial 2020 T level courses will be confirmed by the government soon.

How will the courses be structured?

Most will be two-year college courses or apprenticeships, but four routes will probably only be available as apprenticeships. These are:

  • Protective services
  • Sales, marketing and procurement
  • Social care
  • Transport and logistics.

What are the advantages of T levels?

T levels are a response to a changing careers landscape, and will provide a clear path to employment for students who will benefit more from technical rather than academic post-GCSE study. If implemented successfully, the technical training will have a positive impact on the workforce in many areas, which in turn provides employment stability for young people leaving education and helps to improve the economy. Sixteen year-olds will also have more study choices than ever before.

What are the disadvantages of T levels?

Universities require A-level qualifications for entry, so taking T levels will limit the variety of further education and employment options for young people taking them, which is why they will only offer vocational courses.

What happens after T levels?

Successful students will take part in an assessed work placement, before going on to either a level 4 or 5 technical education programme, a degree apprenticeship or a higher apprenticeship.

What should parents consider?

As a key stakeholder in a child’s education, with a lot of influence in helping children make important decisions about their future, the best thing for you to do is to stay informed about all of the options available to your child and what they may mean for their future careers. Understand the pros and cons of every avenue, and discuss them frankly with your child. Crucially, decide if university is the best route for your child, or if T levels and apprenticeships may suit them better. If your child is in their early teens, keep up-to-date with the announcements on T levels on the government website, education news sites such as this one, Schools Week and tes, and subscribe to our Parent eBulletin. When the time is right, you will have ensured your teen is in the best possible position to make an informed decision about their future.

Reviewed: March 2018

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