Disruption during the pandemic has forced colleges to postpone industry placements required by 16- and 17-year-olds to complete their T Level, FE Week can reveal.

Early years educator qualifications, including the T Level specialism, require 750 hours or more on an industry placement, far higher than the 315 hours minimum for other T Levels.

A spokesperson for NCFE, who certificate the early years educator T Level, said they “understand the current restrictions bring with them increased challenges for providers in delivering the industry placement element”.

In response, a ‘flexibility’ has been introduced by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to reduce this to 415 hours for the current cohort, which the DfE has confirmed to FE Week will be applied to all level 3 early years educator qualifications.

Our students will be disappointed, as they had been looking forward to their placements

Learning outcomes of the course must still be met and the flexibility will be reviewed for the next academic year.

One of the college’s that has had to delay placements is Chichester College, located in skills minister Gillian Keegan’s own constituency, where a spokesperson said all 74 of their education and childcare T Level students had been due to start placements at nurseries, early years providers and schools this week.

But due to Covid-19, “we have sadly taken the decision to pause some of our planned industry placements until after February half-term”.

“This is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, as well as that of the employers’ staff members and the children attending these settings,” the spokesperson continued.

It is hoped Chichester students will instead attend online lessons towards their T Level qualification, with the placement hours being made up later in 2021, “hopefully” after the February half-term, depending on government advice.

Chichester’s spokesperson said: “Understandably our students will be disappointed, as they had been looking forward to their placements.

“However, the employers have signalled that they are still keen to welcome students once it is safe for everyone.”

Winchester-based Peter Symonds College confirmed to FE Week it has also had to postpone placements. It has 16 students on the education and childcare course – the only T Level it delivers – but said: “Given it is a two-year course, we are not yet concerned that this will jeopardise our students’ ability to complete their qualification.”

The two-year T Levels are the government’s flagship technical qualification, and launched in September 2020 with an initial offer of three pathways: digital, construction, and education and childcare.

The T Level industry placements are mandatory and need to be completed in full in order for the student to pass the qualification.

In recently updated guidance that explains how FE providers should operate during lockdown, the DfE said it was “closely monitoring” the impact of Covid-19 on T Level industry placements.

A spokesperson added that the first cohort of T Levels is “relatively small and most placements will take place in 2021/22”.

The HCUC college group in London told FE Week its placements had been “significantly impacted,” by Covid-19, due to the “knock-on effect of the many pressures on employers”.

A spokesperson for the group said it is facing a problem that Derby College Group has also raised with FE Week: the DfE’s T Level guidance states “placements cannot be delivered virtually or remotely”.

Derby College, which has 15 students on the education and childcare T Level, says students have only been able “sporadically” to go into nurseries and schools so far this year.

Instead, they have been meeting with employers virtually. However, this will not count towards their placement hours.

The DfE spokesperson said: “T Level placements cannot take place virtually and therefore can’t count towards the required placement hours – that’s because we want students to have a genuine experience of being in a physical workplace to give them a high-quality experience”.

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