T Levels to be put to the test in 2020 in attempt to narrow academic-vocation divide
A new post-GCSE qualification is intended to have equal status to A levels and according to the education secretary, Damian Hinds, would equip students with the skills required “for the jobs of tomorrow”.
Governments have sporadically tackled the academic–vocational divide in England and Wales for decades, usually with little success.
The latest attempt was given a higher profile this year by Theresa May, the prime minister, who said the new T-level qualifications would help the UK to compete globally and would be “a vital part of our industrial strategy.”
Damian Hinds commented: “T levels represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform technical education in this country so we can rival the world’s best performing systems.”
The first courses will be taught from September 2020, initially in construction, digital, and education and childcare. A further 22 courses are planned and will be introduced in stages from 2021.
T Levels are being piloted in named institutions: the first 54 were announced by the government – with some controversy – as four currently offer no technical education at all. The deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, James Kewin, commented: “Technical education is a minority pursuit for most sixth-form colleges, but we do have some members that are significant deliverers and they were surprised not to feature in the pilot.”
That was not the only controversy around the launch. Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary at the Department for Education, formally expressed his concern about the timetable, advising that it would be “challenging” to ensure the first three courses were ready to teach “to a consistently high standard” from next year. If “regularity, value for money and feasibility” of public spending were the only considerations, he wrote, he would advise deferring the start date to 2021.
The DfE, however, said it was working closely with its chosen providers to ensure they would be ready, with a professional development programme for both teachers and leaders from spring 2019.
In a major speech, Mrs May expressed her high hopes for T Levels: “Everyone should be able to have access to an education that suits them, but we know that for those that don’t choose to go to university, the routes into further technical and vocational training can be hard to navigate.
“That’s why we’re making the most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years to ensure young people have gold standard qualifications open to them whichever route they choose.”