T levels present a new pathway to university

The combined practical and theoretical knowledge students will gain in the UK’s newest qualification make them a realistic alternative to A levels, says Andrew Kaye 

四月 6, 2019
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T levels are a new qualification for the UK set to launch in September 2020. They will combine high-level technical study and work-ready skills with the theory and study of traditional A levels over two years. 

The department for education is clear that these new courses will be the equivalent of three A levels and will attract the same Ucas tariff points. The content will provide the academic foundation students require for university, through classroom-based teaching, while developing the skills young people need to work in 21st-century jobs through extended industry placements. 

With the government’s longer-term goal being to create three distinct post-16 options – A levels, T levels and apprenticeships – it is critical that each provides students with a clear pathway to higher education. This is because a complementary ambition of the government is to develop a post-18 education system that encourages the development of the skills we need as a country. The post-16 reforms, therefore, need to fit strategically into the post-18 review.      

However, to make T levels a success, we need universities to endorse them. While we might not have a system like the Swiss or German technical universities, we do know that the UK university sector values diversity and is starting to embrace degree apprenticeship programmes. Therefore, universities endorsing T levels seems completely logical in the context of the post-16 reforms and post-18 review. 

What concerns me now, with the imminent launch of T levels, are reports that some universities are split about the benefit of T levels and if they will successfully prepare students for university study.  

I believe this is an immediate challenge for the government to reassure not only universities but also colleges, schools, students and parents that T levels could actually be of even greater value than the A level option, which is currently considered the default route to university for school leavers. 

T levels’ blend of the practical elements of technical and professional qualifications with the theory and study of traditional A levels is unique. Moreover, employers have been involved in their design, ensuring emphasis is placed on employment skills, with 45 to 60 compulsory days of industry placement. 

I believe T levels should be seen as the alternative route to university but bringing with it added benefits to students in that they will be well grounded academically and settled in a career path giving them greater ambition to succeed. 

The time spent by a student in a workplace will equip them with experience and skills they cannot gain from A-levels and are totally beneficial to university-style learning: working in teams, taking instruction; working effectively with people at different levels.

T level students will leave with the skills employers need in growing, skilled occupational areas and some will probably make valuable industry contacts who could assist with case studies for assignments, interviews for dissertations or delivering guest lectures and talks to their peers. 

While A levels are a general, post-16 education option with students taking a breadth of subjects, with T levels a student can focus on one subject area, giving them huge advantage when they pick a single subject degree. This is also a good thing for universities because it may well help to reduce dropout rates. 

Universities now need to consider how they will recognise T levels in their admissions. It is no good universities just listing Ucas tariff points on their websites and in their prospectus. They need to fully, actively and vocally endorse T levels.

Parents and teachers are key influencers and while many now recognise the value of technical and professional education, they may still see this route as second best to A-levels, unless it is clear from the outset that progression to university with T levels is a realistic option.

For further education colleges, our job is an important one: influence universities and schools to value T levels and do so by ensuring that the first T level cohort to achieve their qualifications in 2022 are well equipped to study higher education courses.

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, set out his plans to get more people into skilled jobs at the end of 2018. Many universities are also setting their own degree-level apprenticeship agenda, so there is positive rhetoric in this area. 

Ministers now need to place T levels as equal to, if not better than, A levels. Universities should place greater emphasis on the skills required for 21st-century jobs. T levels have the potential to offer this, but parents and schools may not believe this unless universities actively commend them.

One very important point to consider as we begin this new phase in further education is student choice. We must ensure that students do not feel pressured to make a decision based on what doors might open or close for them as a result. If a student is unsure about whether to go to university or into employment and feels that T levels will afford them the time and experience that they need to make a better decision about their future, they should feel empowered to make that choice. 

Andrew Kaye is principal of Fareham College, one of only 50 further education colleges in the country selected to teach the new T level qualifications in 2020.



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Reader's comments (2)

What is the main difference between T-levels and Apprenticeships if both are based on work and technical skills?
If these are a "new qualification for the UK", it would be helpful to explain how they relate to Highers, Advanced Highers and the four-year university degree in parts of the UK that do not have A-levels...