The government has just published another Action Plan (apparently this is the third!) for T-levels, now buoyed by the enthusiasm of Secretary of State Gavin Williamson ‘a former FE student myself’ for vocational alternatives.
Having much in common with Labour’s Specialist Diplomas, there are some important differences. Unlike the post-16 Ts, the Dips started at 14 (Michael Gove who abolished them in his first week of office, wanted a traditional academic curriculum across Key Stage 4). As well as providing ‘core’ knowledge of an economic sector, the T’s are more occupationally specific – there’s even a ‘Cultural Heritage and Visitor Attractions’ due for 2023 as part of the Creative and Design route. There will also be longer work placements, a required 45 days during the 2-year course duration (even though the shorter placement in previous vocational qualifications was often difficult to organise).
The Action Plan includes an ambitious national roll-out programme. There’ll be 25 different T-levels by 2023 , each equivalent to 3 A-levels and with no real opportunity to combine other types of study. Though T-levels will be graded either Pass, Merit of Distinction, they’ll also qualify for UCAS points. Even if ‘the core purpose of a T-Level is to prepare students for skilled work’, this probably helps to sell them to young people.
The huge funding implications will catch many people’s attention. Starting with a significant slice of the £400 million additional funding promised to 16-19 for 2020-21 and probably approaching £½ billion over the roll out period, helps to explain why colleges are rushing to sign up. Yet teacher trade unions remain concerned about whether budgets are adequate.
Just as important, is whether another attempt at reinventing the vocational track will really help those not able or not wanting to go to university by establishing parity with A-levels. But also whether, as the labour market goes through huge changes, with no clear agreement over what the future will look like, yet with many of the ‘middle jobs’ disappearing, locking young people into narrow specialisms is at all sensible.