I’ve posted previously on T-levels and published widely on the problems and limitations of a ‘vocational route’ for increasing opportunities for young people. Despite being reinvented and repackaged every few years, vocational qualifications have never achieved ‘parity’ with academic learning and with employment changing and the possibility of swathes of jobs disappearing or being replaced by new ones requiring different skills, we also risk a huge disservice to young people, by tying them into specific occupational routes at an early age (there will be fifteen vocational pathways, but occupational specialisms within each).
But nevertheless, three years after the Sainsbury Review and the Post-16_Skills_Plan government has awarded contracts for the first three T-levels (Digital, Construction and Childcare). At one stage there was talk of new specially designated colleges, but now it seems anybody can apply to offer a T-level, providing they can provide guarantees on student numbers, have a good Ofsted report and show they are financially sound (!).
So around 50 institutions (mostly FE colleges, but one or two schools and a ‘business partnership’) have been lined up for delivery in September 2020. Another seven T-level routes will be rolled out the following year (though it’s widely assumed this will take much longer) while the remaining three can only be completed through an apprenticeship – T-levels are being managed by the newly established Institute of Apprenticeships. which will have its title extended to include its new brief.
Exact details are yet to be published, but like many vocational initiatives before them, T-levels will contain a ‘core’, a more specific ‘occupational’ element with candidates expected to meet requirements in English and maths – though unlike previous qualifications, at least 45 days will have to be workplace based, putting additional pressure on employers already struggling or reluctant to recruit apprentices.
Teacher unions have argued that because of massive cutbacks in FE (a 20% reduction in funding since 2010) there’s not enough money to make T-levels a success – though this will not stop cash strapped colleges bidding for the start up grants available. There is also growing concern about lack of consultation over the way the new qualifications are being introduced. These are obviously important issues, but it’s also essential that reformers re engage in debate about what sort of education should be on offer to 16 year olds. Also, it’s essential that Labour learns the lessons from apprenticeships and doesn’t just reinvent the vocational route leaving academic education largely unchallenged.
In the meantime T-levels will limp on.