Halfon pleads with colleges to convince more students to take T Levels

Skills minister urges leaders to persuade more year 11s onto the courses as plans for a replacement qualification build

Skills minister urges leaders to persuade more year 11s onto the courses as plans for a replacement qualification build

14 Nov 2023, 13:31

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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.

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  1. Tony Allen

    I am concerned at the lack of any strategy here. One week it’s all about the new ABS, then the next, apprenticeships, and now this week, T levels. All done in isolation.
    Apart from the confusion this generates, it runs the real risk of each programme being in competition.

    • Williams

      I agree with the confusion this announcement created. We have worked hard to roll out a very new program that has only just started registering with stakeholders, parents, school leavers, Career Officers, etc only to be told it will be replaced. Everyone is still getting their head around what T Levels mean and then comes the poorly timed announcement that it will be replaced! Very demoralising!

  2. But Robert…. The staff in colleges I talk to have no faith or confidence in TLevels. Most parents I talk to feel the same, and many young people tell me they will avoid them at all costs as they simply don’t believe they will lead to a positive destination!. When will the Government realise that they are the only ones who DO believe in T levels? Actions to de-fund other qualifications will, I fear just lead to more young people becoming NEET or going into jobs without training. And all the above doesn’t take into account what employers say, much of which is unprintable here.

  3. Emma Writtle

    How can this be justified when the minister knows that the likelihood is that T Levels will be left to die on the vine and the ABS has no chance of ever leaving the drawing board? It is tantamount to a scandal that an education minister should encourage professional staff to wilfully mislead young people. There is no virtue is saluting while the ship goes down when you should be helping people get off it.

  4. Rachael Tomlinson

    I teach on this and the T-level lacks everything that our old level 3 in Computing offered. I used to have classes of 30 but now have a class of 6 and another of 9. Students ask me, will there be graphic design, games development, C# programming like there used to be and I have to say no. Python is not a language for level 3. I need to teach what local industry needs like C# and C++. Also why the heck is the coursework done under exam conditions? Does the person who made all these decisions not know what it’s like in industry we need to develop their ability to research and make use of tools just as chat gpt rather than just banning it all. It’s not helpful to the students. It’s a rubbish qualification and we need to return to what we had before for Computing it worked well and students enjoyed it.