If it ain’t broke…

Blog
17 April 2018 by Josie Whiteley
I’ve been pondering T-levels, the new “technical” equivalent to A-level that colleges will begin delivering in September 2019, and I’ve concluded that I have no idea why we need them.

I’ve spent more than a decade working in industry and two decades working in further and higher education and I have no idea which skills employers think are missing.

 

What’s more, rather alarmingly, with just 18 months to go before the major reform of post-16 education begins, it’s clear colleagues in colleges know very little about this new qualification. We also have to ask if colleges – many of them struggling financially – will have the resources to deliver them.

The Government believes this new, level 3 qualification, which will be available in 15 pathways, will train people in the skills required by the UK workforce and those that employers, we are told, think students lack. But I’ve spent more than a decade working in industry and two decades working in further and higher education and I have no idea which skills employers think are missing.

I’m not sure when BTEC became unfit for purpose and why we now need T-levels

 

If they want bespoke training then they should be offering it to their employees or perhaps making a financial contribution to their local college so they can deliver it. As far as solid vocational training goes, we already have BTEC diplomas. These well-known qualifications are essentially skills-based, including theoretical and practical units, although they do now have both course work and externally-marked exams. As a standards verifier for vocational qualifications, I’m not sure when BTEC became unfit for purpose and why we now need T-levels.

The Government’s proposals indicate there will be two pathways open to students aged 16-19: the academic option (A-levels) or the (T-levels) technical option. Initially, it said the applied general qualifications (most BTEC nationals fall into this category) would be part of the academic option alongside A-levels. However, the Government’s recent consultation document included proposals to review the continuation of existing 16-19 qualifications, including the applied general suite. 

It's not clear how colleges will secure the required work experience of 45-60 days for T-level students

 

If T-levels replaced BTECs, we would see a narrowing of the curriculum for 16-year-olds because the new qualification covers fewer areas. Are we just going to lose these very specific qualifications? If I want to be a stage designer – is there a T-level for me?  Or should I take art, drama and English A-levels and find a drama course at university with a module including stage design?  Or will BTEC level 3 production arts, the qualification all my students have undertaken to study production arts at university before moving onto great jobs in the industry, still exist?

It isn’t clear.

Neither is it clear how colleges will secure the required work experience of 45-60 days for T-level students. Shorter work placements have already proved impossible for colleges over the last few years when work experience has been a requirement of funding. And ridiculous rules stipulated that paid work (done by many students) could not be counted… actual work could not be counted! This is beyond ridiculous.

So many questions

 

If you live in Manchester and want to work in the fishing industry, how do you get that experience? How much will placements cost young people in travel and accommodation if they need to live away from home? Have safeguarding issues been considered for such long placements?

So many questions.

In the end, the purpose of education isn’t simply to provide skills to local industry. It is far more than that. By all means cut down on such a huge range of post-16 vocational qualifications, so the choice is less confusing, but leave young people with enough choice to ensure they can pick a course right for them.

It’s not my intention to be unduly negative about T-levels, but I am reminded of the 14-19 Diploma. Introduced in 2008, it was axed five years later. It failed for a number of reasons and one of them was that it wasn’t clear what problem the Diploma was solving. The adage if it ain’t broke don’t fix it seems entirely appropriate now. We don’t need a major overhaul of post-16 education. It just needs to be properly funded.

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