T Levels won't succeed unless they are implemented correctly

20 Feb 2019

There is a real risk to the long-term economic prosperity of the UK if we do not get the introduction and implementation of T Levels right, leaving the UK with fewer engineers, builders, electricians, and fewer workers with the right skills across most industries.

Technological change, globalisation and Brexit will increase the numbers of employers struggling to find skilled people, holding back their success and the country’s chances of strong and inclusive economic growth.

The Government responded to this growing need by announcing its flagship skills policy – T Levels and new Higher Technical Qualifications for adults. Both will be delivered by colleges in partnership with employers.

These are genuine and positive attempts to give young people and adults the skills they need to have successful careers, and colleges are working hard to help to design and implement them. However, colleges have serious concerns about their viability, based on current funding levels. Successful delivery requires teaching staff with specialist industry expertise, up to date equipment, and smaller class sizes; all of which require more funding.

A key aspect of T Levels is the specialised teaching and training they will offer, relevant to today’s workplaces. Even using funding projections from the Department for Education, colleges will not be able to afford to offer the range of specialisms required, because they cannot afford to attract and retain staff. This proves especially difficult in key skills shortage sectors such as engineering and construction, where pay is already at a premium.

As it stands, even if every place is filled (reaching 100% efficiency) on specialist courses such as engineering, construction and science, they will be operating at a significant loss. If we do not get this right, the skills gap will continue to grow, and the country will have fewer engineers, builders, electricians, and fewer workers with the right skills across most industries. There is a real risk to the long-term economic prosperity of the UK.

For young people, the base rate funding per student has been stuck at £4,000 per year for the last five years – with the sector seeing 12% real terms cut to per student funding for 16-18-year olds and a 45% real terms cut to adult education. For T Levels and Higher Technical Qualifications to be viable, government needs to introduce a base rate increase of £1000 per student as a minimum.

The Government has the opportunity to do this as part of this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. There is already growing consensus across Westminster that the Chancellor needs to prioritise college funding as a matter of urgency. Earlier this month, 165 MPs for four major parties wrote to Philip Hammond urging him to invest in colleges as a means of investing in the country.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“The introduction of T Levels and Higher Technical Qualifications will offer new and better opportunities for thousands of young people and adults, giving them the skills they need to get on in life. They will help employers find the skilled people they need to be successful. It is vital that the Government gets their implementation right, and funding is central to that.

"If we are serious about securing the UK’s economic long-term success, we need to focus on improving skills and productivity. These new qualifications have the potential to do just that, but only if we invest properly in them.

"Adequate funding is needed for colleges to be able to attract and retain the right staff and have the right equipment; current funding levels do not support that so they cannot be delivered. I urge the Chancellor to listen to the calls from MPs from his own and other parties and make this a priority in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.”