T levels: Gender imbalance on first courses revealed

Gender split dominates classrooms in all areas of first wave of T levels, exclusive analysis finds
25th March 2021, 1:27pm


T levels: Gender imbalance on first courses revealed

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The first three T levels display a significant gender imbalance - with some courses made up entirely of one gender, exclusive Tes analysis has found. 

In the construction route, participation is 93 per cent male, with a similar proportion (92 per cent) of male students on the digital route. Meanwhile, in education and childcare, 95 per cent of students are female.

Tes requested data on the number of students on each course, and the gender learners identified as. Of the 41 wave-1 T-level providers, two-thirds (26) responded. 

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Across the providers currently offering the digital T level, almost half have no females enrolled at all. At 45 per cent of digital providers, eight in 10 of those enrolled identify as male, and at 10 per cent of providers, it’s seven in 10. 

Of those offering the construction T level, 40 per cent of providers have 100 per cent male participation, with 60 per cent of providers having more than eight in 10 males on the course. 

However, in the education and childcare T level, female students dominate. Around 57 per cent of providers have 100 per cent female participation, with 36 per cent having more than eight in 10 female participation. At just seven per cent of providers, female participation is seven in 10. 

Gender imbalance: ‘Stubbornly persistent trends’

The three routes are the first of 25 T levels that will be available for students from 2023. A T-level action plan published by the Department for Education in January revealed that, as of October 2020, 400 students were enrolled on the digital T level, 250 on the construction T level and 650 on the education T level. 

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said government, employers and the wider education sector must work with colleges to address the gender imbalance. 

He said: ”This is an interesting early analysis and it underlines the importance of addressing any gender imbalance in course and career choices. This is not something that colleges can do alone; the government, employers and the wider education sector must work together to address these stubbornly persistent trends. 

“The number of students pursuing a T level is currently very small, but as numbers creep up, it is important that the profile, whether gender, ethnicity, ability or disadvantage, of the cohort studying each subject is something we keep a close eye on.” 

Kirsti Lord, deputy chief executive, of the Association of Colleges said it wasn’t surprising that courses reflected the gender bias of particular industries.

She said: “T levels are a great vehicle for young people to access training in specialist industry areas, many of which have a long-standing history of being dominated by one gender or another. It is not surprising that in the first year of a new qualification, courses have recruited reflecting the gender bias of particular industries as colleges work to make new provision attractive to students and parents alike.

“Colleges have always worked hard to break to mould, encouraging, for example, women into engineering and construction and men into caring professions and education, T levels offer a real opportunity to continue this work and I am confident a better gender balance will be achieved in these qualifications in the future.”

T level gender balance: Reaction from the awarding organisations

Cindy Rampersaud, senior vice President for Btec and apprenticeships at Pearson, said it was disappointing to see the “continuation of the entrenched trend of the low female take up of STEM subjects”.

She said: “We need to work together as a sector, and as a society, to urgently encourage and support a more diverse cohort of learners to take up these pathways - where exciting new careers of the future lie in growing industries.

“This is more urgent than ever, as the impacts of Covid-19 are deepening inequalities in learning, skills and employment. We are committed to playing our part in increasing the awareness of the opportunities, challenging stereotypes, and providing support to enable a wide range of learners to flourish and succeed in these sectors.”

Zac Aldridge, operations director for technical education at NCFE said: “NCFE is supporting providers to showcase the fantastic opportunities that T Levels can offer to all students. We have a long history of championing men in childcare and our recently launched careers toolkit has been designed to showcase the breadth of opportunities available and highlight positive success stories. There is still work to be done to address gender imbalance in certain industries but by working together with other organisations and industry partners, we can drive change and make a positive difference.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The roll out of T Levels has always been gradual, working with a small number of providers to ensure the qualifications are high-quality and successful from the start.

“In the future, we want as many students as possible to be able to take advantage of T Levels, whoever they are and wherever they are from. To challenge any stereotypes which may hold young people back from applying our T Level ambassadors showcase a wide range of voices, including digital T Level student Chloe and construction T Level student Jessica.

“This data is a snapshot from providers, we will have full picture of our first cohort of students in the summer.

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