A school handed £1.2 million for a new six-classroom, purpose-built block to teach the government’s flagship T Levels has recruited just one student, FE Week can reveal.
Salesian School, in Surrey, began delivering the education and childcare route this September after a one-year deferral that was blamed on Covid-19. It planned to recruit 15 learners.
But the school struggled to sell the technical course to students who opted to stick with “qualifications that they know”, such as A-levels, because universities and employers “better understand” them.
The school, which completed its new T Level block last summer, is now delivering one-to-one tuition to just one learner as a result.
The government has committed £183 million in T Level capital funding for providers for buildings and equipment to help deliver the new qualifications.
Painsley Catholic College, in Staffordshire, has built a £1 million hub intended for exclusive digital T Level use, including “state-of-the-art learning pods”.
It aimed to recruit eight students this year – but only two signed up. Both providers said some rooms were now temporarily being used for other courses.
Rules on the grant funding require providers to deliver T Levels for two decades. The DfE can reclaim funding if courses cease, or if funding is used for other purposes.
Salesian executive headteacher James Kibble said: “We believe that T Levels offer a real opportunity, so decided that the best way for us to overcome the perceived barriers was to start to deliver them.”
While he said it was a “positive addition” to student options, he admitted students “feel they know very little” about them.
On the sole pupil being recruited, he added: “This is not viable for any more than a short period of time, but the potential longer-term benefits of offering this qualification make this is a strategic investment.”
Adam Reynolds, computer science head and T Levels lead at Painsley, said it was doing “everything we can” to promote courses. But he added: “There needs to be a massive drive from government to raise awareness.”
Government has already run an initial £3 million marketing campaign. Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has more recently vowed to make T Levels “as famous as A-levels” by the next election.
But Reynolds warned many pupils do not want to put “all their eggs in one basket”. T Levels are the equivalent of three A-levels, in one subject.
Not being able to study science or maths alongside digital courses was a “nightmare” as students “instantly get switched off”, Reynolds added. Leaving one-third of each course for other subjects would make them “more appealing”.
Kibble agreed most students wanted to study T Levels alongside other qualifications. “It’s a pity it has to be all or nothing.”
Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton also said last month she would prefer T Levels to be slimmed down so students can study another qualification alongside it.
Tom Richmond, a former Department for Education special adviser turned director of think-tank EDSK, said tiny cohort sizes in some institutions were “almost an inevitability”.
“It was perfectly sensible for the DfE to push capital investment towards T Level providers, given the focus on meeting employer needs, but it was always going to be difficult to convince learners and parents to take a chance on an untried and untested qualification,” he told FE Week.
A DfE spokesperson promised to work with providers that have not hit their student target numbers to “ensure successful long-term success” of T Levels.