T-levels: Raising awareness in parliament will be vital to their success

10 May 2021, 9:42

A deeper understanding of T Levels by MPs will be crucial, writes Damian Hinds

Giving young people the best opportunities to set themselves on a path to quality is more important now than ever. For that, skilled employment is essential.

T Levels are a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our technical education and training. They will be key to putting the technical and academic paths on an even footing and equipping young people with the skills they will need for their future careers.

Parliamentarians have a role to play in supporting the rollout, which is why a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for T Levels was established last week.

It brings together members of both the Commons and the Lords with a particular interest in technical education. It is a group with a depth of insight and experience, and from across the political spectrum.

We are fortunate to have as sponsors engineering company AECOM, the Education and Training Foundation and the Gatsby Foundation, with different and important perspectives on the subject.

At our first open meeting, it was great to welcome both the education secretary and the skills minister to speak and take questions. I was really pleased that such a wide variety of both colleges and businesses were able to attend.

Raising awareness of T Levels will be vital to success, and that includes making sure there is a deep understanding of T Levels in parliament, alongside awareness among businesses and families, stakeholders and the wider public.

MPs play a particularly relevant role, through their links to the colleges, schools and training providers and businesses in their constituencies.  

‘Make sure all voices are heard’

With any new programme there are always public policy questions. In the case of T Levels these include the social mobility opportunity, ensuring diversity, careers advice and the link with onward destinations; and there is particular interest in how to optimise industry placements.

We want to make sure that the voices of young people, industry and the education sector are heard as the rollout of T Levels progresses.  

A challenging and wide-ranging qualification, T Levels will appeal to a whole variety of students. The courses involve English, maths and digital skills, alongside broad core content for the principal discipline studied, and they allow for some more occupationally specialised content too.

The total time for a T Level is expected to be around 1,800 hours over the two years – a significant increase on most current tech-ed courses.

At the heart of the T Level is ‘on-the-job’ experience in a substantial industry placement of at least 315 hours (that’s about 45 days).

This is the chance for a student both to build their technical knowledge and skills, and to develop those workplace skills on which firms place such a premium.

It is this element – the placement – that has most often caught the eye both of young people and their potential future employers. One of the key success factors is going to be about sufficiency of quality placements, across the different subjects and across the country.

Big, collective commitment is needed from firms, especially with current pressures. But it is also a great opportunity for business to invest in and develop our nation’s talent pipeline.

It is essential that the qualification meets the needs of businesses. So employers have been involved in T Level design from the start, putting together course content and setting the parameters of assessment.

‘Get the message to parents’

Launching a new qualification against the backdrop of a pandemic is clearly challenging and keeping up momentum will be even more important. I know the first providers offering T Levels have been putting a lot of thought, and effort, into the roll-out.

Key to supporting the efforts of providers and businesses is getting the T Levels message to the people who are often the most influential careers advisers in a young person’s life: parents.

This is a formative time for T Levels as the subject range extends and more providers come on board.

Most importantly, it is the time when more and more young people will be looking to the T Level as the ‘NexT Level’ qualification that can get their career off to a strong start.

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