ESFA to explore 'flexibilities' for T-level industry placement

Government officials have revealed they are actively looking at ways to make the 315-hour minimum industry placement in T-levels more flexible.

Senior leaders such as David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, have long expressed concern that young people, especially in rural areas, will be unable to pass the T-level owing to a lack of local and lengthy placement opportunities.

In a webinar put out by the Education and Skills Funding Agency in February, T-level developer Sarah Knights said the government is listening to concerns and could “accommodate flexibilities” before the first T-level students start in 2020.

“It’s very much something under consideration – access to industry placements, particularly in areas where opportunities are limited. There is a lot of work going on at the moment to see how we might be able to accommodate flexibilities within the delivery model,” she said.

FE Week understands one area of flexibility the ESFA is looking at is allowing students to take several short industry placements at different employers, as opposed to one long one, which would add up to the minimum duration.

Jo Maher, the principal of Boston College, one of the pilots of the new technical qualifications, is one person campaigning for the change to allow for multiple placements to count towards the 315-hour minimum.

She also wants a change in government rules so that simulated work within a college, at a college-run restaurant or hair salon, for example, can count towards the placement.

“I fully understand there is a view that it’s an artificial environment, but having paying members of the public in the building means students can still learn,” she said.

She believes this flexibility would be particularly helpful for students with special educational needs and mental health issues who can use it to “build confidence” before going to work at other companies.

Maher has also asked the ESFA to make 45 days the minimum requirement, instead of 315 hours.

“The spending rules say the placement can last a minimum of 45 days, but that’s a misnomer. It’s the 315 hours that’s the real crux point,” she told FE Week.

Maher said many of her 72 T-level pilot learners have to get up at 7am, but cannot start work until 10am.

This is because they have firstly to travel to college before being taken to their work by a designated minibus as they cannot afford to travel to the placement.

“Why would we then put in a measure that they have got to this for 60 days?” Maher asked.

Boston College had to buy a minibus and delegate a member of the work placement team to make an hourlong trip ferrying the learners to their placements.

“That is not what funding should be used for,” Maher said.

She added that without these various flexibilities to the industry placements she does not believe T-levels will be a success. Another area the ESFA still needs to work out is whether part-time jobs can count as part of the work placement.

“When asked a question about this in the ESFA webinar, Elisabeth Baines, who works for the agency in funding and programmes development, said: “It depends. We have outlined the principles of what an industry placement should be so I do not think we can give a blanket ‘yes it could’.”

On the possibility of flexibilities, a DfE spokesperson would only say: “We are working closely with colleges, providers and business to get the delivery of this right and more information will be made available over the year.”

However, he confirmed that there are no plans to change the 315-hour minimum requirement.