‘Lower than expected’: T Levels attract 10,200 new students in 2022

New DfE data indicates 10,000 starts in 2022 but AoC says some colleges have struggled to attract learners

New DfE data indicates 10,000 starts in 2022 but AoC says some colleges have struggled to attract learners

10 Mar 2023, 10:00

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More than 10,000 young people were recruited onto T Levels in the third year of the rollout, new government data shows.

Sector chiefs have warned that the figure shows lower-than-expected demand for the flagship qualifications as colleges struggled to hit their enrolment targets.

Figures in the latest T Level action plan published on Thursday showed 10,200 student starts across 16 T Levels in 2022, compared to 5,210 new learners across ten T Levels in 2021.

Just over 1,000 students studied one of the first three T Levels in the inaugural 2020 year, meaning a total of about 16,400 learners have started a T Level since they were launched.

Some 164 providers across England delivered the courses in 2022, up from 102 in 2021 and 43 in 2020.

In 2022/23, new T Levels launched in accounting, design and development for engineering and manufacturing, engineering, manufacturing, processing and control, finance, maintenance, installation and repair for engineering and manufacturing, and management and administration.

In her written announcement of the delay to four of the T Levels due to launch this September, education secretary Gillian Keegan said: “The T Level action plan, which was published today, sets out that T Level starts doubled from around 5,000 to around 10,000 between 2021 and 2022.

“Most importantly, T Level students, teachers and employers continue to give us great feedback on the quality of T Level courses.”

On the T Level transition programme – a year-long 16 to 19 course for those not ready to start a T Level but who wish to do so later – early DfE data recorded 5,600 students across all routes last year compared to 3,348 in 2021 and 847 in 2020.

T Levels were launched in 2020 to be rigorous technical equivalents to the academic A levels route, with future courses due to be rolled out in the next few years.

Julian Gravatt, the Association of Colleges’ deputy chief executive, said his organisation’s members have struggled to recruit against their targets.

“While only DfE has current data on total student numbers, the AoC autumn 2022 enrolment survey showed that for 11 out of 16 T Level subjects, enrolments were lower than expected at over half of colleges – with particular challenges in digital business services, health and healthcare science,” he told FE Week.

Characteristics data on ethnicity and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) suggested that T Levels were not as accessible for those learners as other level 3s.

The percentage of T Level students with an education health and care plan (EHCP) was 2.4 per cent in 2020 and 2.7 per cent in 2021 – lower than the 3.5 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively on level 3 vocational and technical qualifications.

In 2020, 11 per cent of T Level students were recorded as being from an ethnic minority background, rising to 18 per cent in 2021 (excluding school data), below the 24 per cent across other level 3 technical and vocational subjects.

The action plan said that as a new course the DfE “might expect providers to be more reluctant to recommend them to students with SEND until they have a good understanding of the courses and until they are well embedded into the system,” adding that the ethnicity data “reflects the fact that T Levels are at an early phase of rollout,” and geographical spread was “not yet even”.

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