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Major reforms are being made to the technical education system in England. The proposed reforms were first set out in the Post-16 Skills Plan, and the legislative framework for them was provided by the Technical and Further Education Act 2017. In November 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) published a consultation on implementation, which it responded to in May 2018.

Under the reforms, a new technical education option will be created to sit alongside the academic option (e.g. A Levels and a degree). The technical option will comprise 15 routes based around occupations with shared training requirements. Some routes will be further sub-divided, with closely-related occupations grouped together into pathways.

The technical option will be delivered by a combination of college-based education and apprenticeships, with four of the 15 routes delivered primarily through apprenticeships.

New level 3 study programmes – T Levels – will be created to sit at the start of technical routes (apart from four apprenticeship only routes), with a T Level for each pathway (i.e. some routes will have more than one T Level). They will be primarily aimed at 16 year olds. A ‘transition year’ is being developed for those students who are not ready to start a T Level at age 16, but who could achieve one by age 19.

T Levels will be equivalent to a 3 A Level programme and will, on average, consist of 1800 hours studied full-time over two years – around 50% more than the average 16-19 study programme at present. They will all follow the same broad framework and will consist of five components:

  • A technical qualification
  • An industry placement with an employer of at least 315 hours (around 45 days)
  • Maths, English and digital requirements
  • Any other occupation-specific requirements/qualifications (e.g. a license to practise).
  • Any further employability, enrichment and pastoral provision.

Three T Levels within the construction, digital, and education and childcare routes will be delivered at a small number of providers from September 2020. A further seven T Levels will be available from September 2021, with another eight available from September 2023. It is aimed for the remaining T Levels to be introduced from September 2023, but this is to be confirmed.

T Levels will not be available in all subjects where level 3 qualifications currently exist. The DfE is in the process of reviewing post-16 level 3 qualifications with the aim of simplifying the current qualification landscape.

It is intended that the technical option will extend from T Levels up to higher skill levels. The DfE is currently reviewing technical qualifications at level four and five and launched a consultation on proposed reforms in July 2019.

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