Adult T Level pilot flounders as most colleges fail to recruit a learner

Freedom of Information request reveals just 14 learners against a target 150 have signed up to date

Freedom of Information request reveals just 14 learners against a target 150 have signed up to date


Just 14 students against a target of 150 have been recruited for a pilot to test the government’s flagship T Levels with adult learners so far, FE Week can reveal.

The Department for Education confirmed in September that it had launched a trial involving adults at 11 colleges to test T Levels, with a view to analysing the trial in 2024 before a potential rollout from September 2025.

The pilot – which covers wave one and two pathways in digital, construction, education and childcare, and health and science T Levels – aimed to recruit 150 learners.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request from FE Week has revealed that only two of the colleges have managed to recruit anyone to the pilot so far.

Exeter College has managed to enrol 13 adults on the digital T Level, while East Sussex College has taken on one learner to study the education and childcare course.

The DfE decided on a low-key launch, refusing to name the 11 colleges involved.

However the FoI, lodged with the DfE, has revealed the colleges involved, although one – New College Durham – said that it was invited to join the pilot but declined, and did not attempt to recruit any learners.

The other 10 colleges are: Barnsley College, Derby College, East Sussex Colleges Group, Exeter College, Farnborough College of Technology, Gateshead College, Harrow College and Uxbridge College, Nelson and Colne College, Priestley College and TEC Partnership.

T Levels, the first wave of which launched in September 2020, are only available for learners aged 16 to 19, but those aged up to 25 who have an education health and care plan can be accepted.

FE Week has approached all of the colleges but most would not comment on their faltering recruitment efforts.

Gateshead College said it received no adult applicants for its digital and healthcare T Levels and confirmed there will be no additional in-year recruitment.

A spokesperson said that the college is not looking to recruit “discrete” groups of adults for September 2023 but hoped to support younger adults, such as those aged 19 and 20 who have not previously undertaken level 3 qualifications but for whom the T Level would be a good step towards work or higher education.

Rebecca Conroy, principal and chief executive at East Sussex College said she believes T Levels have a role to play in helping adults gain qualifications, but added: “While recruitment was low, we believe this is due to the small number of T Levels offered and the limited time available to promote this launch.”

Farnborough College of Technology said it is due to advertise for a September 2023 start among its main adult education campaign, with enrolment expected over the summer.

A spokesperson at Harrow College and Uxbridge College said: “We offer a broad range of level 3 courses for adult learners and our robust information, advice and guidance ensures that students are recruited to the most appropriate programme.”

They added that the colleges will “continue to plan for T Level growth as a priority”.

Exeter College said that 16 adult learners began in September, but two of those switched to digital bootcamps and another dropped out after securing a job.

Lucinda Sanders, director of higher education and adult learning at Exeter College, said: “Bootcamps are proving to be really successful for us, particularly in digital but also in other sectors now as well,  and I do like that model for adults to upskill and retrain. But for certain groups of adults who need more support to step into the industry and are coming from a complete transformation in their lives I think that T Levels do work, and for those 13 we do have now it is working very well,” she said.

Exeter set up a digital department for adult learners which meant it could market the digital T Level alongside existing offers such as the digital bootcamps, apprenticeships and free level 2 digital technologies course that it already offers. It set up the adult T Level as a part time course to allow learners to continue work alongside their studies, which Sanders said had helped recruitment.

In October 2020, then-education secretary Gavin Williamson pledged that T Levels would be offered to adults in the future, but did not give a date.

A DfE consultation in 2021 on level 3 qualifications found that 71 per cent of respondents agreed the new qualifications, which are designed to be the technical equivalents of A-levels, should be made available to learners aged 19 and above.

Funding arrangements for the pilot had not previously been disclosed, but the FoI response has confirmed that cash is provided centrally as allocations in provider funding agreements and not via the adult education budget.

It said there is a single rate of £10,000 per learner split over two years (£5,000 per student for each year of delivery), and providers retain £5,000 if they meet the qualifying period for funding.

A further £1,000 per learner is allocated explicitly for learning support as set out in the AEB guidelines, it said.

A DfE spokesperson said the department could not comment on the findings of the pilot until it has concluded and completed its evaluation, but added: “The pilot is small in scale and we hope to learn valuable lessons regarding how adults can be supported in accessing T Levels, should be decided to offer T Levels to adults in the future.”

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