So, here we are again, discovering that measures to establish parity of esteem between vocational and academic options already seem consigned to failure.
The new T levels would put technical education “on a par” with other routes to employment, skills minister Anne Milton said only last October. But two years before they are due to be introduced, it turns out that some of the country’s most prestigious universities have already decided that the new qualification, announced by the government as the vocational equivalent of A levels, would not be considered in the same way in applications for their courses.
The universities’ reluctance to consider the new routes comes despite barely anything being known yet about the new qualifications or their content. But it is easy to see why some institutions, including Imperial College in London, are confident in their view that T levels will not count, while others are reluctant to commit. They don’t need them. They are already having to turn away applicants, many of whom have the appropriate number of A levels and an impressive list of extracurricular achievements to boot.
And then there is the other crucial point: T levels will, by their very nature, be much more vocational. So why should fundamentally academic institutions consider them? Equally, why should young people hoping to go to these universities undertake qualifications that are not as academic as A levels?
The point here is not whether students who take T levels will apply to university. The point is that if we say the qualifications are “on a par” with something else, then that is what they need to be. We cannot tell young people to take qualifications on the basis that they offer parity when we already know it isn’t true.
Parity of esteem won’t be achieved by giving qualifications similar names to each other. It will come when we stop seeing university as the be-all and end-all measure of success, and when we instead judge routes by the tangible successes of those who take them.