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Government response to T Level consultation - the highlights

29 May 2018

It was a busy long weekend for the Government. We finally have the long-awaited Government response to the T Level consultation, we know which colleges will be delivering the first T Levels in 2020 and the occupational maps have been updated. Details of the 16 institutions which will progress to the final stage of the Institutes of Technology (IoTs) have also been released. The consultation response indicates that DfE has not only heard the sector, but also listened. There is a recognition of the challenges that T Levels, especially staffing and industry placements (as work placements will now be known) will bring. AoC welcomes the emphasis on the support and guidance required for both providers and employers to deliver on the ambitious industry placement requirement and to up-skill current staff. No doubt this will be a key part of the support for the early adopters too. We will work with DfE and colleges on how best to attract further high calibre staff into the sector. The funding of basic English and maths skills in addition to the T Level is also a positive step, as is keeping to the current funding methodology and the consideration of how to best fund students who start T Levels at 17. That is not to say of course that the funding of T Levels themselves, based on the current rate, but to deliver more hours, is a sustainable model. Importantly for those who have been arguing that students should have the choice of either GCSE or functional skills this will be an option. However, students must achieve Level 2 in English and maths to gain the complete T level. We know that currently 18% of level 3 students do not complete one or both of their English and maths GCSEs while they do complete the full vocational Level 3. This might be covered by the reasonable adjustments for students with SEND for English and maths, industry placements and consideration of the impact of external assessments on this cohort of students too. We will need to wait and see. Other positives are the intention for DfE to liaise with UCAS to see how UCAS points can be allocated to T Levels, promised clarity over the respective roles of IFA and Ofqual, engagement with Defra regarding industry placement accessibility and with DWP to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by undertaking a placement. As with any consultation response there are still questions. The consultation refers to a review of other qualifications to consider their value within the system. The review of Level 3 qualifications and specifically Applied Generals (AGQs) has been on-going for a while now. Colleges need to know what will be funded, and what won’t, to help planning over the next five-year period. This is particularly true for subject areas, which are not wholly covered by T Level routes such as Sport and Performing Arts, but are valuable to students and the economy alike. As Protective Services appears to be confirmed as an apprenticeship only route, there are also questions about how best to meet the needs of students who currently take Public Services qualifications. How T Levels will work for adults, progression to higher levels and apprenticeships, bridging options and the transition offer which will potentially impact on the 46% of students in general further education who are currently on programmes below Level 3 are still to be developed, but again this is acknowledged and, in the case of the transition offer, will be developed with the sector indicating a recognition of the good practice that already exists in lower level delivery across the country. The consultation response refers to how the National Apprenticeships Service (NAS) will provide a 'one-stop shop' support employers to deliver industry placements. It needs to be clear how the interface between NAS and colleges will work too. External assessment and the grading system have been confirmed. It will be crucial to see how these work in practice. We already know that external assessment in current Level 3 qualifications has led to poor achievement of the overall qualification. Qualifications should be stretching and encourage students to aim high, but in the world of work very few of us are asked to sit in a room and complete and exam; there are other ways of assessing knowledge, through projects and presentations and portfolios. Employer briefs could set the standard. The mixed grading system, A* to E for the core and Pass, Merit, Distinction for the specialisms to show threshold competence does not appear that simple at first sight. The overall T Level pass grade of all components may help, but proof of this will be in 2022 when the first T Levels are awarded. The 2020 T Levels will not be pilots, they will be awarded to students who have put in two years of hard work, completed industry placements, English and maths to the required level and demonstrated threshold competence in their occupational specialisms. It is vital that we now all work together to ensure that T Levels are not only world class for the country, but the highest quality learning experience for each and every individual.