There has been a large increase in students taking vocational qualifications in the last 20 years. This is in part due to the 2013 change in legislation whereby the government made it compulsory for students to continue education or training until the age of 18. Before that, students would either stay in full-time education and pursue academic qualifications, stay in further education and study for a vocational qualification or leave school at 16 to find a job.
Those who chose to leave school at 16 would often start in low-paid and unskilled roles. The government hoped that by raising the school leaving age and providing training and qualifications, young people would leave with knowledge and skills to give them a headstart in their career.
Despite this major change in legislation, the vocational qualifications students can pursue have remained largely unchanged. In fact, the three most well-known qualifications – BTECs, NVQs and Apprenticeships – have been around since 1974, 1986 and 1994 respectively. Moreover, with multiple qualifications available in the same industry, the government believes the current system is “confusing and complicated” for both students and employers.
Thus, the government has begun a radical overhaul to “crack down on poor quality post-16 qualifications”. One part of this shake-up is the creation of a new qualification: T Levels.
What are T Levels?
T Levels, or Technical Levels, are vocational qualifications which follow on from GCSEs. They were developed in collaboration with industry experts and companies to ensure their content meets the needs of employers and that the qualification sufficiently prepares students for the industry they are going into.
If your child decides to do T Levels, they will be based at a sixth form or further education college. Alongside the learning they will do in college, your child will do a minimum of 315 hours – approximately 45 days – on an industry placement. At the end of the two year course, your child will gain have one T Level. This is the equivalent of 3 A-levels.
At the moment T Levels can only be studied in England. Therefore, if you live elsewhere in the UK your child will need to choose between BTECs, NVQs, Apprenticeships or, if you live in Scotland, NVQs. If you’re struggling to narrow down your options our blog post ‘What are your child’s options if they don’t want to do A-levels?’ may help you.
What subjects do T Levels cover?
When they have been completely rolled out, T Levels will cover 15 sectors.
- Three T levels started being taught in September 2020. These are: Education and Childcare, Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction and Digital Production, Design and Development.
- A further seven T Levels will be available to study this September: Building Services Engineering for Construction, Digital Business Services, Digital Support and Services, Health, Healthcare Science, Onsite Construction and Science – with the remaining courses starting in either 2022 or 2023.
The complete list of sectors T levels will cover are:
- agriculture, land management and production
- animal care and management
- building services engineering for construction (starting September 2021)
- craft and design
- design and development for engineering and manufacturing
- design, surveying and planning for construction (now available)
- digital business services (starting September 2021)
- digital production, design and development (now available)
- digital support and services (starting September 2021)
- education and childcare (now available)
- hair, beauty and aesthetics
- health (starting September 2021)
- healthcare science (starting September 2021)
- human resources
- maintenance, installation and repair for engineering and manufacturing
- management and administration
- engineering, manufacturing, processing and control
- media, broadcast and production
- onsite construction (starting September 2021)
- science (starting September 2021)
How are T Levels taught and assessed?
Like A-levels, T Levels are classroom-based. Around 80% of the learning your child will do will be in an educational setting.
According to the Institute for Apprenticeships, a T Level is split into three main sections:
- Technical qualification (TQ) is the main, classroom-based element. Students will learn about their chosen sectors through a curriculum designed by employers and developed by an awarding organisation (AO)
- Industry placement runs for a minimum of 315 hours (45 days) overall and will give students practical insights into their sector and an opportunity to embed the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom
- English, maths and digital provision is also built into the classroom-based element of the T Level, meaning students will be given a solid foundation of transferable skills.
Alongside their classroom learning, your child will spend around 20% of their time – a total of 9 weeks across the two-year course – on placement with an employer. Compared to BTECs, where only 2 weeks is spent on placement, this is substantial. This placement will give your child the chance to consolidate what they’ve learnt over a sustained period of time. Moreover, it will allow your child to get a real feel for life in their chosen industry and will provide them with valuable confidence when applying for jobs once their T Levels have been awarded. Your child will not necessarily be limited to one placement; they may have the chance to do placements with two employers. The placement could be one continuous block, day release or a mixture of the two.
If you or your child would like to get a better idea of what placements are like and their benefits you can watch lots of videos from students who have undertaken placements here.
The way each T Level is assessed will depend on what is suitable for that industry. Assessment types include external examinations to projects set by employers. Your child will be able to find how they will be assessed when searching for a college and course.
How are T Levels graded?
Your child’s overall grade will be calculated by based on how they performed in each area of their T Level (see box above). T Level grades can be compared to their A-level equivalents with the help of the table below.
If your child doesn’t pass their T Level they will get a statement of achievement which shows which elements were completed and their grade for each of those elements. This means if they fail one section they will still have something to show employers, unlike a BTEC where students fail the whole thing. We couldn’t find any information about the potential to retake.
What are my child’s options after T Levels?
Your child can either continue in education or get a job. If they want to continue studying then they can either do this in a work-based setting via an apprenticeship or apply for [/go to] university.
T Levels are worth three A-levels and the UCAS tariff points reflect this. In the table above you can see that if your child achieves a Distinction it’s the equivalent of 3 As at A-level. By aligning T Level UCAS points so closely with A-levels, the government has created a qualification which should be recognised by universities.
However, as the qualification is so new, it is unclear what requirements universities will ask for. Or, if they will accept T Level students at all. A National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report warns:
“Universities are free to decide whether they will accept T-levels and there were questions as to whether Russell Group institutions will accept T-levels. […] Linked to this, decisions made by Russell Group universities may influence other universities and could tarnish T-levels in the minds of parents/carers.”The Independent
If university is the route your child wants to take then it’s important to check the entry requirements of any courses they have set their eyes on. Don’t be afraid to ring up universities if you can’t find T Levels mentioned in their prospectus: this is a new qualification so universities may not have updated their requirements yet, or made a decision on whether to include them in entry requirements. It’s important you know what is required for university entry before your child undertakes a qualification which may not get them where they want to go.
Where can my child do T Levels?
At the moment, depending on where you live, your child’s options may be limited. The government has compiled a list of institutions which have been selected to provide T Levels. However, although there are 194 places listed, only around 50 of these are currently offering T Levels. The rest are set to transition to T Levels over the next two years. Moreover, as with A-levels and other vocational qualifications, not all institutions will offer the whole range of T Levels.
You can use this search function to find your child’s nearest T Level provider and find out details of which subjects they will offer.
What are the entry requirements?
Like other qualifications, it’s up to the college or sixth form to determine their own entry requirements. Moreover, different courses will have different entry requirements.
Typically, vocational qualifications have lower entry requirements than A-levels and are therefore more accessible. However, investigations by TES showed that in 2020 the majority of centres offering T Levels were asking for a minimum of a 4 in English and Maths to apply – and some were asking for even higher grades.
Colleges setting such high entry requirements probably wasn’t something the government was expecting. T Levels have English and maths provision built into the classroom-based element of the qualification. This provision was meant to ensure that students didn’t need to meet a specific level in English and maths to join the course. Anyone not meeting the standard would be taught the subjects alongside their sector-specific training. Thus, even if a student hadn’t begun with what is considered a pass in GCSE English or maths, they would leave with one. However, the government had no control over what entry requirements colleges would set and, with entry requirements set higher than the government anticipated, there’s a danger a large number of students will be prevented from applying.
The government has introduced a T Level transition programme to help alleviate this problem. But, it’s not clear what these courses will entail, or if completing the transition programme will be enough to satisfy the english and maths requirements set by colleges. In fact, we aren’t sure the government is clear on what the transition programme is meant to achieve either. The government website says:
“We have begun by working closely with a small number of providers to explore different approaches to delivering technical knowledge and skills and develop good practice. Over time, this phased implementation, coupled with providers’ increasing experience of teaching T Levels, will help us to understand what technical knowledge and skills T Level Transition Programme students are likely to benefit from developing, to support their progression to a T Level.”
What’s the difference between BTECs, Apprenticeships and T Levels?
BTECs and T Levels are very similar qualifications in that both are two-year long, classroom-based qualifications which will provide your child with industry-specific knowledge and skills. The main difference between them is the length of industry placement. BTECs only have a 2 week placement; this means that skills learnt on the course are taught through practical sessions in college and there is limited opportunity for their implementation. T Levels, on the other hand, have a much longer placement – minimum of 315 hours or 45 days.
However, apprenticeships are very different to T Levels. More learning is done ‘on-the-job’, where around 80% of your child’s time is spent on placement (unlike T Levels where 80% is spent in the classroom). Apprentices spend their remaining time at a place of study. Moreover, apprentices are paid while they learn.
Are T Levels replacing BTECs?
At the moment no, your child will still be able to do BTECs. However, this may not be for very long. One of the main reasons the government is overhauling the system is to simplify it: at the moment they believe there are too many qualifications in each sector. To help speed up the streamlining process, the government is planning to remove funding for qualifications that overlap with A-levels and T Levels, in order to reduce competition. Once funding is withdrawn, further education colleges [and sixth forms] will be forced to drop qualifications such as BTECs in favour of T Levels. The government believes that this approach will simplify qualifications and ensure that students leave with qualifications that are respected by employers.
Are T Levels replacing Apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships are safe. In fact, the government said: “From 2020, A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships will be the gold standard option for young people after they take their GCSEs”.
There’s no doubt that the current system offers a lot of choices which can make finding a vocational qualification which suits your child confusing. By streamlining the options students have post-GCSE and ensuring each qualification is robust, the government wants to ensure both students and employers can be confident with all qualifications on offer.
The government has been clear that their ‘gold standard’ for students studying vocational qualifications will be T Levels or Apprenticeships. But it’s not as simple as that. The next three years are a transition period, with T Levels being slowly phased in and the status of qualifications such as BTECs – which they’re meant to replace – unknown. The first few years with any new qualification are always bumpy and there will no doubt be issues which need to be ironed out. With the qualification in its infancy it’s likely that confidence in T Levels will be low. Moreover, there’s a danger that a lack of employer awareness surrounding T Levels may be a hindrance when your child comes to search for a job. With so many things up in the air, one thing is for sure: taking a T Level now will certainly be a gamble.