As an educationalist, I believe in greater choice of quality qualifications for young people aimed at equipping them with relevant knowledge and skills valued by employers. In the UK, unlike in some other countries such as Germany, vocational or technical qualifications are largely undervalued and, up until now, have had a variable record of adequately preparing young people for successful employability.
To remain competitive, all economies require a skilled workforce with the capacity to learn and develop in order to keep up with the changing demands and technological advancements. It is therefore crucial that young people have the opportunity to pursue different high quality routes that lead to secure employment.
I cherished the challenge of developing the content of the new T levels qualifications, together with other experts in education and child development. Our greatest challenge was not only to meet the tight deadlines. Primarily, we were concerned with developing high quality, robust content that would provide the right level of challenge. Specifically, content focused on the right knowledge, behaviour and skills valued by employers in different educational settings – from birth, through early years, to working with older pupils and young adults. Creating content to suit different specific demands, for example, for successful employability within the early years foundation stage (EYFS), and the core content relevant to employability within all educational establishment in the role of teaching assistants or learning mentors, have been our greatest achievement.
'A real opportunity for young people'
Having been involved with developing T levels in education and childcare, I feel that these qualifications will provide a real opportunity for young people at 16-plus to pursue technical education specific to their chosen career. Many young people study subjects at university with little relevance to their future employment, while many jobs do not require a degree level education. I believe that high-quality technical qualifications can offer a more suitable preparation for specific jobs, and this is why I embraced the opportunity to be involved with shaping these new technical qualifications.
T levels in education and childcare, alongside two other T levels, will commence in September 2020. As an expert in education, I am really happy to see the priority given to developing these technical qualifications in the areas of education and childcare. To ensure the best start for all children, a highly-skilled workforce is essential. Evidence tells us the quality of early years education has an enormous impact on later educational outcomes. It is therefore crucial that appropriately qualified staff work with young children.
I am optimistic about these new technical qualifications. They have been developed by industry experts in consultation with relevant employers. They will give young people more options at 16-plus and provide pertinent preparation for a specific career or higher education. These new technical qualifications will involve more classroom-based learning, thus offering a better balance between theory (knowledge base) and practice.
T levels are modern technical qualifications. They have been developed as a gold standard in vocational excellence and, while preparing for employability, offer an alternative route to further or higher education. Starting from September 2020, young people will have a greater choice to pursue high quality qualifications. They will be able to opt for the new technical qualifications in three different areas: education and childcare, digital or construction, with more industries to follow.
As with any new initiatives or products, there is still a great deal to be done in promoting these new qualifications. It is key for young people and their parents/carers to have a thorough understanding of these T-level qualifications and how they fit into the landscape of all post-GCSE options. Ultimately, the success of these new technical qualifications will depend on their popularity with young people. T levels offer a real alternative to a purely academic route. While preparing young people for specific jobs within different industries, they enable further academic studies. They have been developed by industry experts for industry experts. I believe in their potential to transform the perception of technical qualifications, making T levels worthwhile qualifications to aim for in their own right. Their academic rigour, combined with practical industry experience, should not only benefit young people’s employability, by preparing them adequately for working with children or young adults, but also restore the value of technical education.
Educational settings will benefit from well-prepared and qualified staff, able to provide the right level of support for their young learners. The impact of these new qualifications should be reflected in the improved outcomes of young people, together with the improved quality of their educational experience, and better career prospects for newly qualified individuals.
Dr Joanna Goodman is director of Cromwell Consulting, an education consultancy. She previously worked in teaching, school leadership, academic research, teacher training, inspecting schools and advising on improvement