Delivering T levels: 5 things you need to know

T levels bring with them important new expectations of educators, says Zac Aldridge from NCFE
8th December 2020, 5:32pm
Zac Aldridge


Delivering T levels: 5 things you need to know
Here Are 5 Things You Need To Know If You Want To Deliver T Levels

It hardly needs stating that beginning to teach the first T levels in this, of all years, poses challenges for providers. If the position of T levels in the senior leadership team's league table of priorities had dropped during the last six months, we'd understand why. However, at NCFE, we've seen no decrease in appetite from providers to get T levels right. We're delighted with this - T levels are important. 

The first few thousand students who enrolled on a T level at the start of this term expect providers to get T levels right first time. The many hundreds of employers that awarding organisations like NCFE engaged with to write, review and validate T levels expect to recruit students with enhanced technical skills and knowledge. 

There is, therefore, a lot riding on the quality of T-level teaching. From our development work with industry representatives, we'd encourage colleagues with responsibility for teaching and learning to think about the following things.

1. The first T-level students are pioneers

When something new comes along, it's often easy to rein yourself in for fear of getting it wrong. Over the next few years, as teaching staff get more familiar with the methods of assessment for T levels, they'll take more risks with their delivery. They'll try something different that might just stretch students enough to get them the distinction grade they're on the cusp of achieving; they'll trust themselves more to be able to pull it back if those risks don't quite pay off. Current students deserve those chances, too. 

Therefore, make taking a risk less risky - lower the stakes. On your T-level provision, use peer observation rather than a formal approach: allow T-level teachers to observe and coach each other, and allocate them time to develop a project-based improvement activity aligned to the T-level assessment strategy. Pioneering students learn best from trusted, pioneering teachers.

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2. Industry placements: not just for students

A great CPD programme allows time for teachers to go back into industry and update their skills and knowledge every year. T levels were written by employers, and providers need to keep up. The ETF's Industry Insights programme will fund this for you, but even without discrete funding, industry placements for teachers are essential to high-quality T-level teaching. If your T-level students are all on placement at the same time, why not get teachers to join them? The contemporaneous assessment opportunities this will provide doubles the benefits.

3. Contextualise maths and English

We know the entry requirements for T levels will be high - the content is new and challenging, and good GCSE passes are tempting minimum thresholds. Remember, though, that the condition of funding does not apply to T levels. In this context, your T-level Transition Programmes become key drivers for imparting maths, English and digital skills in ways that prepare students not only to pass GCSEs, but to support their T-level occupational specialism. Talk to employers about industry-relevant content, speak to your AO about the support they can offer, and don't forget that functional skills may allow you more scope to directly target T-level preparedness than GCSEs.

4. Introduce mentors

HE institutions and employers will expect T-level students to assimilate as well as any other student or employee. The industry placement and rigour with which assessment is applied to T levels will certainly support the transition. Many HE institutions and employers offer the opportunity for students to be mentored - we think this will be invaluable for early T-level cohorts and can help to link you with the right people. A mentor to support with the general experience of university or working life is useful. Even better is a mentor who can embed the connections between your T-level teaching and a future potential HE course or technical job. 

5. Formative assessment scaffolds the summative

Providers have no past cohorts of T-level students to learn from this year. Couple this with grappling to introduce the dramatic and necessary increase in blended learning, and measuring the progress of your T-level students against untested assessment criteria becomes a huge challenge. 

You should take as many opportunities as possible to formatively assess your students - and use employers to help. Ask them to set industry-relevant assessments that embed learning; ask them to interview your students - remotely - about their T-level content; set up employer panels to which your T-level students present termly progress. All of these activities will complement formal, summative assessment and enhance learning.

T levels represent a considered, fundamental change to the post-16 education system - a chance for students who take an applied, vocational pathway to secure genuine parity of esteem with their academic peers. We'd be delighted to work with you on what we know is a shared determination to deliver outstanding T levels.

Zac Aldridge is operations director for technical education at NCFE

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