Further changes planned for health and science T Level after IfATE probe

Institute says science content was too high in the health pathway while highlighting inconsistencies in occupational specialisms

Institute says science content was too high in the health pathway while highlighting inconsistencies in occupational specialisms

23 Jan 2023, 16:01

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More improvements are to be made to health and science T Levels after findings from another government review were published today, following “serious” issues found by investigators last summer.

And the exams regulator says that its assessment of the employer-set project has not found any issues.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has confirmed reports that the science content in the health pathway was too high, as well as reporting inconsistencies among occupational specialisms in the flagship new course.

The findings, published by the institute this morning, follow a separate review by Ofqual and the Department for Education during the autumn that found the core exams for the qualification were not “a sufficiently valid or reliable measure of student performance”.

Results for over 1,000 students have since been regraded. Then-skills minister Andrea Jenkyns said at the Conservative Party conference in October that the incident did “slightly tarnish” the T Level brand.

IfATE’s review specifically investigated the outline content and technical qualification specifications into the three health and science T Levels currently available.

It found that the level of science content in the health pathway was too high – specifically in relation to chemistry and physics content, but said that was not the case with science or healthcare science pathways. It said that the relevance for science content would be examined for future cohorts too.

In addition, the study – which included interviews with employers, providers and higher education institutions – said that some providers reported “limited resources” to contextualise content in their teaching.

The findings went on to explain that there were inconsistencies in the specification for the occupational specialisms.

However, the investigation said that the overall amount of content was in line with level 3 qualifications of that size, and that while the technical qualification specification differed slightly to the original outline content, it was to add more context and not deemed to be a concern.

IfATE said that its next steps would include working to “separate the core for the health T Level” and consider whether more care content is needed in the longer term.

It means there will be less pure science content in the health core papers.

However, those changes will only come into effect from the September 2023 cohort.

IfATE said that to ensure students’ learning on the current content is recognised properly, teaching and exam preparation for this summer should continue as normal.

Rob Nitsch, IfATE’s director of delivery, said the feedback from employers and providers as part of the review “is a testament to both the ambition there is for the T Level programme and the commitment to the students who are taking up these qualifications”.

He added: “The potential of T Levels is undimmed and I’m confident they remain a great option for students. IfATE, together with our delivery partners, will now be pursuing the findings with rigour and pace to ensure that we seize the opportunity to improve the health and science T Level.”

Of the 1,115 first-year results issued by NCFE last summer, 914 learners were on the health pathway, with 46 learners on the healthcare science route and 155 studying the science pathway.

The review follows uproar from disappointed students last summer who received grades to be well below what they had been predicted.

It prompted students to launch a petition, while a subsequent FE Week investigation into the controversy during the autumn found that one in three first year learners had either switched courses or dropped out of college entirely as a result of the problems.

Students raised concerns that the textbook was not available until only a few weeks before the exam, and that questions in the core exams included content they had not been taught.

A subsequent investigation by Ofqual and the Department for Education found that the core exams were not fit for purpose, with a letter issued to providers from the DfE reporting “question errors, inadequate mark schemes, and questions covering areas not explicitly in the specification.”

As such, the DfE decided to issue grades based on students’ employer set projects if they scored a higher grade in that than their overall grade.

Resit opportunities for the employer set project for those first years were held in the autumn, with another planned for this summer.

When education chiefs announced the employer-set project would form students’ grades for year one, the DfE confirmed that Ofqual would also be looking at the employer-set project in its review after some concerns were raised by providers, but Ofqual did not issue any update on that in the autumn when NCFE signed the undertaking with Ofqual.

Now, the exams regulator has confirmed that it reviewed a sample of employer-set projects from both the summer and the autumn resit, with a spokesperson saying it was “satisfied that the assessments could deliver a sufficiently valid and reliable indication of student performance”.

Anecdotal evidence from tutors delivering the first-year course who spoke to FE Week reported some problems with the uploading system for the employer-set project in the first year. A blog written by one tutor, who wished to remain anonymous, said the employer-set project was “unwieldy and devoid of realistic expectations” with an “erratic” marking scheme.

However, it was not clear how widespread those issues were.

A spokesperson from awarding body NCFE explained that the outline content for the three pathways was created by panels of employers and the approval of IfATE, before then being developed and delivered by NCFE.

But NCFE agreed there was too much science content in the health pathway and said it welcomed the proposal to separate the core health element.

“We’re pleased to see the outcomes of IfATE’s review into the health and science T Levels and fully support the findings and recommendations that have been proposed,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ll also continue to work with providers on an individual and cohort level to identify and deliver additional support ahead of the summer assessments and beyond.”

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