The expectation of 45 days work placement for T Levels is unrealistic

8 Aug 2021, 6:00

Gavin Williamson says he wants T Levels to be a world-beating “gold standard” qualification. Just saying that doesn’t make it so, writes Niamh Sweeney

I have been sounding the klaxon about T Levels since they were first mooted.

Williamson seems to have heard the klaxon, but instead of doing something proactive or listening to the profession, he has taken what appears to be an ideological decision to end the funding for their competing qualifications, BTECs.  

I have been teaching a range of general applied qualifications for 20 years. They are popular with students, many of whom know the employment direction they wish to travel in.  

I have had students go on to study everything from midwifery, to law and primary education. They give access to the world of work and give students experience of project work, managing deadlines, critical thinking and problem solving. 

Vocational, technical and applied qualifications are often considered “easy” and that simply isn’t true.

A whole load of “lockdown haircuts” prove just how difficult level 1 or 2 hairdressing is and how much we should value those who complete the qualifications to distinction level.  

‘Lockdown haircuts’ prove just how difficult level 1 or 2 hairdressing is

We currently have an “academic” education system policed by exams. We have a lot of rote learning. Students come to me at post 16 and they are exhausted.  

They have lost the love for learning and often don’t have independent learning skills.

In fact in my 20 years of teaching, I have witnessed a decline in the level of independent study skills that 16-year-olds possess, even amongst the high flyers.  

Vocational, technical and general applied qualifications, like the ones I teach in criminology and health and social care, spark a student’s interest and provide an excellent stepping stones into the world of work or higher education.

Not only this, but they tackle complex subjects that help our young people become the active, global citizens we need them to be.  

I am offended by Williamson’s line that the qualifications I teach are “poor quality” and “less rigorous”. It is offensive to my profession and offensive to my students.  

If T Levels are the “gold standard” Gavin, why has the number of colleges offering the qualifications fallen and roll out slowed?  

Just 50 colleges were initially chosen to roll out the qualification, which fell to 46 as four pulled out.  

Quite staggeringly Scarborough sixth form, which is Williamson’s old college, pulled out of offering construction and digital pathways from 2020 because of a lack of availability of placements for the mandatory 315-hour work placements locally.

The expectation for T Level students to complete 315 hours or 45 days of work placement is aspirational at best.

It’s all well and good for Williamson to say that Rolls Royce and British Aerospace are designing programmes of assessment, but the reality is we struggle finding employers to take our Health and Social Care students for 100 hours at the moment.  

And at the height of the pandemic, the DfE stopped its marketing and advertising of T Levels. Literally when it had a captive audience, it stopped telling people what they were.  

Take up from schools, colleges and young people is way below the expectation, given they are “gold standard”. 

I know of one school sixth form with a cohort of 12 who are delivering the programme “nested” in the same room as the established BTEC qualification because parents and students are not yet convinced by it. It would be too costly to run a cohort of just 12. 

The secretary of state is managing to do the very thing that no education secretary should want to do.

His legacy will be a system that pits unchanged, 1950s-style, linear A levels against the untested T Level.  

It will be a legacy that increases the education attainment gap and worsens the skills gap that big business warns us all about. 

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  1. Derek. Tilley

    put BTEC away in a drawer as it will be needed when T levels fail. I have also been sounding warning signals since it conception, and 80%of employers are small businesses who cannot afford the time or expertise to give meaningful work experience at this level.

  2. Terry Fennell

    An excellent summary from Niamh on the T-Level landscape and the propaganda emanating from Whitehall. The SoS needs to spend more time listening to real FE practitioners and less to officials telling him how nice his emperors clothes look. T-Levels do offer some really good opportunities, however they should be a complementary addition to English vocational system and not used as a blunt instrument to drive the competition out of the market.