'Let's get the T-level transition period right'

A sector-specific approach is needed to make sure the transition period appropriately prepares young people for the new T levels

Ian Pretty

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A crucial element to secure the success of T levels will be the proposed transition period – but exactly what it will look like continues to remain a mystery. The Sainsbury panel recognised that not all 16-year-olds will be ready for a level 3 course or employment at 16, so specific provision will need to be designed to support those who leave school with little or no qualifications. For these learners, the transition period will be crucial to ensure that T levels can be accessible to learners from across the attainment spectrum. 

Collectively, Collab Group colleges are starting to think about how a transition period can be adapted to best meet the needs of both learners and employers. We believe that this transition period must be integral to the whole programme, and not portrayed in any way as "remedial". Supporting low achieving learners will be vital, yet equally, the transition period could also enable high performing students to transition to a technical curriculum from an academic one.

Ensuring clear progression routes into T levels and making them attainable to all learners will be necessary to widen the uptake and appeal of these new qualifications. Realistically, the portion of learners undertaking T levels, at least initially, is going to be relatively modest. But longer term, the option should remain available to learners from all background, and all attainment levels, to access these programmes.

Lack of detail

Despite the important role that this transition period could play in supporting learners to progress to a T-level course, there is still uncertainty about what this will look like. Some of this detail will hopefully start to emerge once the DfE offers its response to the recent public consultation. Still, we should be thinking now about how learners are best supported to enable progression to T levels and beyond.

Above all, we believe that there needs to be flexibility in how a transition period is constructed. There will not be a “one size fits all” approach. The emphasis will be on colleges working in collaboration with employers to design pathways that prepare learners not just for technical study, but also start to embed some of the core employability skills that will be crucial to inspire achievement in the workplace. Luckily, this is something that is recognised by DfE: as stated in the recent consultation guidance on the implementation of T levels: “[The transition period] will be a flexible programme in content and length, designed by providers to give students the support that they need.” And yet, it is still being referred to as a “transition year” but perhaps a “transition period” would be more appropriate? It could be a year, it could be more, or less, it all depends...

While it will be crucial to ensure that there is flexibility in the way that the transition period is constructed, particularly in relation to content and length, these courses should be designed in partnership with employers and providers. There will undoubtedly be many models that a transition period could seek to replicate: a traineeship model, a level 2 apprenticeship in a craft related subject or a generalist model that focuses on embedding core employability and community-based skills. But we think a sector-based model aligned to the 15 broad occupational routes could be one route to success.

A sector-based approach

A broad, sector-based approach to the transition period has the distinct advantage of providing a clear pathway to filter talent into T-level programmes that could respond directly to local skills and employment needs. The programme should incorporate basic English, maths and digital skills and embed basic employability skills. 

Collab Group is currently piloting innovative “Bridge into Construction” programme in partnership with Build UK. We believe that it could serve as a useful model which could be adapted to form the basis on a construction focused “transition period.”  The nine-month further education course is currently being piloted by two colleges with plans to roll out to eight additional colleges in the next academic year. The course will provide a consistent level of training and competence and equip students with the skills they need to progress to a construction apprenticeship. This model gives learners a broad introduction to all aspects of a construction project from pre-construction, construction and post-construction and will allow learners to progress on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Similar transition period pathways could also be built across other sectors, but the intention is to take an approach that gives a broad sectorial overview, which then narrows down into a more specific area of focus while undertaking a T-level programme.

The shape of the transition period will need to be flexible and adequately prepare learners to undertake a T level. A sector-specific approach, aligned to the relevant occupational groups, could be a way to provide learners with a broad overview from which they can specialise, progress and succeed.

Ian Pretty is chief executive of the Collab Group of colleges

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