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What are T Levels?

T Levels are two-year technical courses taken after GCSEs and equivalent in size to three A Levels. Launched in September 2020, they offer students practical and knowledge-based learning at a school or college and on-the-job experience through an industry placement of approximately 45 days (20% of the course).

T Levels are intended to sit alongside apprenticeships within a reformed skills training system. They will be based on the same set of employer-designed standards as apprenticeships, but while apprentices will train for a single occupation, T Level students will undertake a broader programme, gaining skills and knowledge relevant to a range of occupations.

The first three T Levels were launched in September 2020, with 1,235 full-time students aged 16- to 18-years-old undertaking courses in construction, digital, and education and childcare. Seven further T Levels were launched in September 2021 and the total number of full-time T Level students increased to 6,062. Six more T Levels were introduced in September 2022, and the remaining seven courses are due to be introduced in 2023 and 2024.

The development of T Levels

In July 2016, the Government published its Post-16 Skills Plan, which committed to implementing the recommendations from the 2016 Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education.

The Plan outlined the Government’s desire for academic and technical options at age 16 to be held in similar esteem. The technical option will be delivered by either college-based technical education or apprenticeships, and underpinned by a new framework of 15 ‘technical education routes’ divided into ‘pathways’.

These routes and their pathways will provide training for skilled occupations where technical knowledge and practical skills are required. 11 of the technical routes will have pathways that begin with a T Level, while the other four routes and their pathways will be covered by apprenticeships.

Between November 2017 and February 2018, the Government consulted on how best to implement the proposals for T Levels it had set out in its Post-16 Skills Plan and 2017 T Level action plan.

How do T Levels work?

T Levels all follow the same broad framework and primarily consist of:

  • A technical qualification. This is the main, classroom-based element and includes core content followed by occupational specialisation. Students will learn about their chosen sectors through a curriculum designed by employers and developed by an awarding organisation.
  • An industry placement with an employer. This runs for a minimum of 315 hours (45 days) overall and will give students practical insights into their sector and an opportunity to embed the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom.
  • English and maths provision. This is built into the classroom-based element of the T Level with the aim of giving those students who need it a solid foundation of transferable skills.

To pass a T Level and be awarded a certificate, students need to pass all components of the programme. The Government hopes T Levels will then support progression directly into skilled employment, an apprenticeship at level 4 or higher, and degrees and other higher education courses in related technical areas.

For students who are not ready to start a T Level, but who may have the potential to progress onto one following some initial preparation, a one-year, post-GCSE T Level Transition Programme has been designed.

Reaction and issues

The Government’s proposals for T Levels, as set out in its Post-16 Skills Plan, received a broadly positive response from stakeholders when they were announced. Labour has welcomed the introduction of T Levels, but has said it wants to address what it sees as “current flaws” within the new qualification.

There have been concerns raised about some aspects of the T Level programme as well as subsequent policy developments, particularly around the decision to remove funding from other level 3 qualifications that will overlap with T Levels. The full rollout of T Levels has also been delayed on several occasions, while education providers and employers have expressed concerns about their ability to deliver the industry placement component of the course.

In July 2023, Ofsted published a report on T Levels and the T Level Transition Programme that said there remained considerable work to do to improve the quality and effectiveness of both. The report said that, at their worst, T Level courses are not what students expected, and many students have been misled and ill-informed about their content and structure. It also noted issues around teaching, staff recruitment and retention, and the quality of industry placements.

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