Opinion from Andy Gardner
It looks like we are going to be chucking a whole load of money at T Levels, the latest attempt to solve the well documented skills gap and give us a new answer to providing an alternative to A Levels in the Technical/Vocational space. The courses will be run by Further Education Colleges who are currently woefully underfunded and do a great job in very difficult circumstances.
So why am I so negative about T Levels? Here’s my list:
The Diploma (14-19)
Remember this? If you do, you will not know whether to laugh or cry. We have been here before!
“a new qualification in England which has been designed by employers and education professionals to guarantee the skills and personal qualities that young people, business and universities value and need. They are an alternative to the traditional GCSE or A level qualifications and will run in parallel to GCSE/A level and Apprenticeships. The Diploma will be delivered mainly in schools, working in partnership with Further Education colleges and employers wherever a specialised learning environment is needed.”1
Of course there will be differences, but this suite of qualifications which had many similarities to the current proposals, was proposed in 2005 and killed off in 2013. To be fair, I did hear positive reports about the Engineering Diploma.
So will the circumstances be different this time? I’m not sure they will. The bottom line was that in my area young people and their parents didn’t want to do them. They were thought of as inferior to A Levels and BTEC Level 3s.
Schools will still have all the power!
Schools control what young people do at Year 11 transition and they are going to be selling A Levels and other level 3 courses that they do in their Sixth forms. Even when people leave to go to other Sixth Forms or Colleges they will still want to do A Levels/Level 3s because that’s the only messages they have heard. Unless there is a blanket guarantee of Careers Education and Guidance and the pressure is taken off schools to recruit for their own sixth form, these recruitment issues will remain and will kill T Levels stone dead. Until the DFE takes Careers Education and Guidance seriously (including funding Careers Advisers), nothing will change.
T-Levels ignore existing vocational education
Come on, what’s going to be the real difference between a lot of the content of existing Btec/Level 3 courses and the “15 Technical Routes to Skilled Employment” which have “dog’s dinner” written all over them. Why not tweak existing courses such as BTEC Level 3 Hospitality, IT, CACHE etc. If all of the current vocational courses are scrapped, to be replaced by the 15 routes we then have the basic issues of when will it happen, how will it happen, where will it happen and who will make it happen. I fear dog’s dinner cubed! Also we shouldn’t forget that a large amount of vocational education happens in A Levels, the new Your Life website Future Finder (2) shows how what people learn in Stem A Levels, is used in a STEM job e.g. Trigonometry and Computer Games Design along with another 280 examples.
T Levels take away focus from the very successful development of Apprenticeships
In my opinion Apprenticeships are the real success story. I have a Son doing one, there is a funding stream through the Levy and they (again in my opinion) are a much better driver of Social Mobility than universities will ever be as they offer lower income families the option of staying out of the current student finance system with often better employment prospects.
More work experience places to find
With more universities and Apprenticeship Providers chasing organisations for placements and jobs, colleges will be in a very crowded space to find these placements. Will the colleges have the human beings to find the placements? My suspicion is that they will not, because the funding for this will not materialise.(3)
Trying to be positive:
It could follow the Art Foundation example
Make T Levels a 1 year course!
The one year Art Foundation course, which is a staple of FE colleges and has existed for many years, has an exploratory term (where they try out many different types of art and design), a pathway term (where they specialise in a field i.e. three-dimensional design) and then a consolidatory term (where they finally decide what they are going to do next and finish off their portfolio). These principals could be applied to most of the sectors mentioned.
After this year, which could help deal with some elements of career decision, they could move onto an Apprenticeship or do a Year which gets them onto a University course, such as a Foundation Degree.
It puts some much-needed finance into the FE sector
If the appropriate level of funding is provided, hopefully I will be proved wrong and T Levels will be a success! 500 million pounds looks a very small amount of money if it’s a sum of money covering a number of years and is going to be implemented in all FE Colleges.
The way forward is well funded local solutions, building on learning at local schools, the employers that exist in local areas and existing quality courses and apprenticeships at existing Colleges and Apprenticeship providers. Step forward LEPs
And never forget:
“the career aspirations of British teenagers have nothing in common with anticipated labour market demand (Mann et al. 2013).”
Which is why we needed properly funded Careers Education and Guidance in all schools, including impartial Careers Guidance from a Qualified Careers Adviser and all Schools possessing the Quality in Careers Standard.