Skills minister Robert Halfon has pleaded with college principals to convince school leavers to study T Levels amid plans to replace the qualifications with the Advanced British Standard (ABS).
Halfon told today’s Association of Colleges conference there would be no slowing down of the rollout of the flagship courses, insisting they will be the “backbone” of the new overarching qualification which ministers aim to introduce in 10 years’ time.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced the ABS last month during the government’s T Levels celebratory week. It would replace both T Levels and A-levels as a single post-16 qualification in which 16 to 19-year-olds would “typically” study five subjects including some form of English and maths.
The announcement left many college leaders and staff feeling “demoralised”, considering the reform comes only three years after T Levels were launched and with over £1 billion investment.
T Levels have struggled to take off since their launch, with around 16,000 starts between 2020/21 and 2022/23. FE Week recently reported that some colleges have cancelled the courses this year due to low demand, and an AoC survey released last week found T Level enrolments were below expectations in most colleges in 2023/24.
Halfon told college leaders today that T Levels are the “most future proof option you could offer” a school leaver.
He said: “When the ABS was announced, there was some concern that it would come to bury T Levels – ‘what was the point of three years rollout if T Levels were eventually going to be surpassed by something else?’. I’m here to tell you that one supports the other. T Levels will provide the backbone of the Advanced British Standard. We will continue to roll that out with more to come in 2024/25.
“Technical education has undergone unprecedented reform over the last decade. We will continue this programme to simplify the skills landscape and create a stronger set of qualifications than ever before.
“All of this puts T Levels in a better position than any current qualification. As I say they will be the backbone of the Advanced British Standard, making them the most future proof option you could offer 16- to 19-year-olds.”
He then made a rallying call to college leaders for them to persuade more young people to take on the qualifications.
“It’s thanks to all those pioneers here today who championed T Levels from the start that we can see a way to achieving a long-held ambition of parity of esteem between technical and academic education. But we need your continued support. The best advocates for T Levels who can demonstrate that ethic and versatility to upcoming year groups, are yourselves, the principals, the tutors, the teachers.
“Now is the time to persuade the year 11s visiting your open days to consider T Levels and the life changing opportunities they bring.”
The Department for Education is expected to launch a consultation on the ABS this month.