New digital T-level qualification moves closer to reality as government invites bids to tender

SUMMARY:

The new T-level qualifications will be delivered from September 2020 and are the government’s attempt to transform technical education across the country – giving pupils an alternative to an academic education.

The government is moving closer to making its new digital T-level available to students across the country, with the Department for Education (DfE) today launching a competition inviting bids for organisations to win the rights to develop, deliver and award the first qualifications from September 2020.

T-levels – which will include digital, construction, and education and childcare – are part of the government’s plans to reform education and skills, offering students an alternative to academic qualifications.

The government has long spoken about the need to fill the UK’s skills gap and has taken steps to change the education offering in schools – ranging from new Computing GCSEs and A-Levels, as well as the forthcoming T-levels.

T-levels will be on a par with A-levels and will include course content created by expert panels of employers and see students partake in a 3 months compulsory industry placement.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said:

We will make sure that our changes to technical education enable young people to have the very best choices about how to build their career.

It is really important that we select the organisations with the right vision, to get the best for the young people taking new T Levels. They will be key to upholding the quality of our reforms and making T Levels a success.

Since we started developing T Levels we have taken an open and collaborative approach, including sharing the draft procurement documents with the sector to give potential bidders a genuine opportunity to influence how this procurement works.

We want to continue working closely with them every step of the way so we get this once in a lifetime opportunity right.

The organisations that win the rights to develop and deliver the T-levels will have exclusive rights to do so, as recommended by Lord Sainsbury in his independent review of technical education in 2016.

Secondary school pupils starting GCSE courses this September will be the first students able to study a T-level.

More than 200 employers have worked with the DfE to design the initial outline of T-level content and have run pilots with over 2,000 young people to trial T-level style work placements. Winning bidders will develop the outline content further and produce detail qualification specifications, exams and assessments, which will be rolled out to schools and colleges.

The first 54 colleges to run the qualifications were selected back in May.

Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes said:

I’m delighted to see this next vital step towards the delivery of T Levels from 2020. T Levels will offer young people broad and high quality learning and training which will help them progress in their chosen careers. The co-creation of the qualifications, with employers and colleges, will obviously be a pivotal part of the implementation, so it is a good sign that this is on time and on track.

Employer response

In addition to the tender, the DfE has also today published some research carried out by IFF and the Learning and Work Institute, which aimed to better understand employers’ capacity and likelihood to offer T-level industry placements.

Overall, the response was positive, with employers stating that they’d take on T-level students for placements both for altruistic reasons and for the benefit of the company.

The study stated:

Overall, employers welcomed the idea of T Level industry placements. The length of the placement is viewed as being sufficient to enable the young person to settle in, understand the business and undertake industry-relevant work of value to both employers and learners. A placement of forty-five to sixty days can also provide enough time for the young person to begin to make a positive contribution to the business as an ‘extra pair of hands’, rather than a burden to be accommodated.

Employers were largely reassured to hear that the industry placement would be focused on an industry relevant to the qualification studied; they felt this would make it more likely that the learner was interested and motivated in their placement. As before, this would increase the likelihood that the learner would bring value to the business.

However, the study also did identify a number of challenges cited by employers. Some felt that they couldn’t definitely commit to offering placements until they had received further clarification and information on the following key points;

  • Content of the course and the objectives of the placement;
  • Structure and timing of the placement;
  • The role of the learning provider;
  • How T-level qualifications fit with other further education and higher qualifications; and
  • Guidelines around paying learners

My take

Skills, skills, skills. It’s something we hear time and time again from employers – an area that they often struggle with. Recruitment and retention is a challenge, which has been made further complicated by Brexit. Giving student an option to train in a technical qualification makes sense and the sooner we start putting people through the training and placements, the better.

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