Time to think ‘T’ levels

Time to think ‘T’ levels

Last year I wrote several articles about ‘T’ levels. In the last article, I addressed the key issues facing FE colleges in preparation for their rollout in September 2020. It seems that these issues are still key, the difference now being the timescale with which colleges have to make the final preparations so ‘T’ levels are ready to roll in September.

I will now discuss each of the key issues I identified and review the progress made towards addressing each issue in turn.

Access to information and guidance for young people, parents and employers

This was a key issue even prior to the introduction of ‘T’ levels due to the manifold landscape of qualifications available to young people in FE colleges. In response to the specific issue of advice and guidance to support the implementation of ‘T’ levels, the government has recently introduced the Baker clause which now makes it a legal requirement, rather than expectation, that schools will give FE colleges access to their student population from Year 8 to Year 13, so that information and guidance about the range of options is fully available to all young people. However, according to the IPPR (2019), despite this being a legal requirement, FE colleges are still not being granted access to school students to help support them make the right choices that reflect their passions, skills and aspirations when making important decisions about their futures.

Work placements

The inclusion of industry work placements in ‘T’ levels is important to help give young people experience of the sector they intend to work in. However, there are two key issues here which have seemingly not been resolved since writing last year. Firstly, the definition of ‘high-quality’ as stipulated in government documentation; what counts and what does not count as ‘high-quality’ still needs clarification. Secondly, the practicalities of the minimum 45 working day placement still present issues for colleges and employers. Namely, the availability of work placements, especially in more rural areas, and the concerns of employers about taking on a young person in terms of cost and expectations of the training involved are still unresolved.

Availability of ‘T’ levels

A key part of this proposed reform to tertiary education was to make FE colleges specialists in different fields, however, this presents a geographical dilemma as most FE colleges offer a general curriculum which offers a wide-ranging and diverse range of options in terms of subject but also the level of further study. Under these proposed reforms, ‘T’ level options would be geographically distributed, with rural areas having a more limited range of ‘T’ level options, mainly due to the issues relating to work placements.


Since there is still so much work to be done to implement these new qualifications in September 2020, perhaps I should not be surprised when colleagues who are on the frontline of vocational education report that “they have not been informed of these changes” or “ not been involved in discussions about ‘T’ levels”. However, it is surprising given that this reform has been deemed the biggest overhaul of tertiary education since the introduction of ‘A’ levels and yet it is now only 7 months to their launch. Whether this is enough time, time will only tell!!

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