‘Wrong message’: leaders criticise ending of T Level maths and English requirement

Axing the requirement for T Level students to achieve GCSE-level English and maths by the end of their course risks devaluing the brand of the new qualifications, sector leaders have warned.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi revealed the move this week, saying it has been made after the Department for Education “consistently” heard of some students being put off taking a T Level because of the rule.

It will bring T Levels in line with other qualifications, including their academic equivalent A-levels.

But former DfE director of FE funding Sue Pember believes the decision “sends the wrong message” to young people.

She told FE Week that removing English and maths GCSEs as the entry criteria for T Levels was “bad enough” and stopping the exit requirement will make their appeal to universities and employers “suffer”.

Ruth Spellman, former chief executive of the WEA, added: “Devaluing T Levels by reducing entry requirements will boost the take-up but risks increasing the fall-out. Can this be the right way to address skill shortages and build credibility with students or employers?”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green has also questioned what other support will be put in place to “ensure students do achieve these essential skills”.

Until now T Level students have been required to achieve either a grade 4 in English and maths GCSE or level 2 in functional skills in order to pass their programme.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which has responsibility for T Levels, has been told to remove it with immediate effect for all pathways. The Education and Skills Funding Agency said it will provide guidance “shortly” on how this will be implemented.

The DfE hopes the moves will boost T Level take-up. Around 1,300 young people started T Levels last year – the first year of their rollout.

Starts figures for this year’s enrolments will not be available until “the end of the year”.

While there is some scepticism about the removal of the exit requirement, colleges that deliver T Levels have welcomed it.

Deputy chief executive at Luminate Education Group and principal of Leeds City College, Bill Jones, said the rule “might have created an unnecessary barrier to otherwise technically highly able and competent students”.

Luminate’s deputy chief executive for curriculum and quality, Gemma Simmons-Blench, explained that the requirement had “prevented a number of students from accessing the provision”.

“Enabling more inclusive access to T Level programmes can only serve to cement their importance and relevance in the curriculum landscape,” she added.

Corrienne Peasgood, principal of City College Norwich, described this as a “welcome announcement because of the parity it puts in place between T Levels and A-levels, given that students are able to achieve three A-levels without having passed GCSE English and maths”. 

However, she doesn’t believe this change will affect large numbers of T Level students, “simply because having a good level of literacy and numeracy is essential to access the T Level curriculum”.

Pember, who now leads adult education network HOLEX, warned that this country has a “history of poor English and maths skills which results in lower productivity and poor economic performance” and said that making GCSEs an integral part of T Levels was a “robust way of showing their importance”.

She told FE Week that although English and maths have been removed as an “exit requirement” for T Levels ,“they are being transferred to being a ‘condition of funding’.

“So where a 16-to-19-year-old does not have grade 4 or above GCSE, they will be required to study towards a GCSE or level 2 functional skills.”

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  1. Dan Jones

    It’s just another perfect example of the shifting sands off this new “gold standard”.

    T levels have been designed to be stretching. The truth is they are level 3.5 qualifications and no College with proper IAG would advise or put a young person with out English or maths on them. You certainly wouldn’t do it on that other gold standard – A levels.

    I also thought they were employer-led linked to occupational standards, whatever next the DfE undermining the IfATE and saying functional skills aren’t necessary to get an Apprenticeship. What would those employers who always say these core subjects alongside half decent soft skills say?

    The rule change wouldn’t be needed if officials in the DfE had the foggiest clue how applied generals work and how English and maths is embedded and given room to be studied.

    The article is correct, it’s about manipulation of numbers. Institutions shouldn’t fall for the trap.

    Officials pretending to be practitioners would be funny if it was for the fact these these are the lives of real young people. The lives and backgrounds of whom some of the people at the top making decisions, before they get promoted to their next posting, can’t even begin to know, understand or vaguely empathize with.

    • Agree – but perhaps this shows the issues of the current GCSE provision – what we need is a post 16 qualification in English and Maths linked to work skills rather than the current offering. A far better option alongside a T Level.