T levels more academic than expected, says provider

When 'fishing for learners' for T levels, providers will be looking at the same pool as A levels, one provider said today

T levels, T level providers, T levels 2021, T levels 2020, Department of Education, DfE

T levels are much more academically rigorous than first thought, one of the qualification's pilot providers has said. 

Speaking at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) annual conference today, Mark Compton, director of employability, partnerships and adult learning at Access Creative College, said the assessment methodology that has been developed is not what he first envisioned. 


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“Actually there is quite a lot of academic rigour, so certainly what we’d be looking for is a learner who is interested in software – you know, the subject interest – but also one who has the ability to cope with the rigours of the T level," he said.

“It seems to me that with A levels and T levels we’d be fishing in the same pool really, looking at learners perhaps in the top 50 per cent of achievers in GCSE." 

T levels have been heralded as the new "gold-standard" qualifications for technical education, aiming to offer young people high-quality, classroom-based training, with an industry placement. They're supposed to be an alternative to A levels, not a direct competitor.

Where will T levels fit in?

Concerns have also been raised across the sector about the potential loss of applied generals, like BTECs, in the name of T levels.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of Association of School and College Leaders, said in Tes that for all the talk of T levels being “gold-standard” qualifications, "we just don’t know how well they will work in practice yet". Untested, he wrote, they're not worth killing off BTECs for. 

Mr Compton said that the academic nature of the T levels made the case for keeping the applied general suite of qualifications. 

“I don’t think the T levels are as inclusive as the current suite of applied generals, which use a range of assessment methodologies, whether it be video, assignments, written work, recordings of learners and coursework. I feel that as an assessment methodology is more inclusive," he added.

"It allows learners who don’t perform well in exam situations to progress into further study or work. What we’re looking at with the T level as it stands is that we need to be recruiting learners who do well under exam conditions. Learners who present with a special education needs, or just are anxious in exam situations, potentially at the moment, the T level wouldn’t be the best opportunity for them."

Mark Pipe, chief executive officer at Develop, an independent training provider, also raised concerns about T levels at the AELP conference. 

He told the conference: “A challenge is duplication of provision. We have three providers in Norfolk, all not that far away from another, all providing the digital [T-level route]. I appreciate this is the first phase, and as it evolves hopefully there will be solutions to that, but again it’s the same thing in the same area, and therefore we’re bombarding employers with our queries for them to get involved in industry placements.”

He also raised concerns with the planning of curriculum, and the messaging that T levels are a potential substitute for apprenticeships. 

“Some of the promotion of T levels has been 'it’s a free apprentice', which sends out completely the wrong message. Those sorts of questions need to be quashed straight away,” he said.

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