Editorial – Technical Education Reforms

What are “T-Levels”? By Peter Yates, Technical Operations Manager

In their Spring budget, the Treasury announced significant extra funding for technical education, with the annual figure available rising to around £500m by the year 2022, however the early steps on the road to this decision were taken back in November 2015. At that time Nick Boles MP, on behalf of the secretaries of State for Education and for Business, Innovation and Skills, commissioned an independent panel to conduct a review of technical education, to be led by Lord Sainsbury. The panel members were asked to consider best practice both in this country and internationally and then advise ministers on measures to improve the current system in England. The panel’s report and the Government’s ‘Post-16 Skills plan’ were both published in July 2016. The government plan accepted “unequivocally where possible within existing budgets”, all 34 recommendations of the Sainsbury review and described itself as “the most ambitious post-16 education reforms since the introduction of A-Levels 70 years ago”.

Lord Sainsbury’s report highlighted significant problems with the existing system and in particular its complexity – there are currently around 13,000 technical education qualifications available to 16–18 year olds. The report calls for the creation of two distinct pathways, academic or technical, with the technical pathway based on a framework of 15 routes encompassing all technical education at levels 2–5. The recommendation for a ‘bridging provision’ will allow some flexibility for those wishing to move between academic and technical pathways. The routes will group together related occupations and each occupation, or cluster of occupations, will have a single technical qualification – dubbed by the media as ‘T-Levels’.  The full programme for a route will consist of a technical qualification, English and maths, digital skills and a significant work placement, together with any sector-specific learning deemed essential by the employers. Whilst Lord Sainsbury concedes that it will be necessary for the Government to design the overall national system, he categorically states that “employer-designed standards must be placed at its heart to ensure it works in the market place”. Awarding bodies, or consortia of awarding bodies, will follow a bidding process to be granted the licence to deliver each of these qualifications.

What are the 15 routes?

Agriculture, Environmental and Animal CareHair and Beauty
Business and AdministrativeHealth and Science
Catering and HospitalityLegal, Finance and Accounting
Childcare and EducationProtective Services*
ConstructionSales, Marketing and Procurement*
Creative and DesignSocial Care*
DigitalTransport and Logistics*
Engineering and Manufacturing

(*Routes primarily delivered through apprenticeship)

What is the timescale for the introduction of T-Levels?

By April 2018, it is proposed that the Institute for Apprenticeships, which launches this month, will expand its remit to cover all technical education, overseeing the developmental work for the new training routes and being renamed: Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. In October 2018, procurement and bidding begins to find the single awarding bodies for the new technical qualifications. Technical qualifications for two ‘pathfinder’ routes will be approved in February 2019, with first teaching of these routes due to start in September 2019. The first certificates will be issued in September 2021, with all 15 routes phased in and available during the period September 2020 – September 2022.
Lord Sainsbury’s report summary states: “By 2020, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills and the size of the post-secondary technical education sector in England is extremely small by international standards. This adversely affects our productivity, where we lag behind competitors like Germany and France by as much as 36 percentage points”. It seems the Government hopes that the proposed technical education routes will eventually achieve parity of esteem with the well-defined academic pathways, attracting students who will eventually begin to fill the looming technical skills gap.

The full text of the Sainsbury report can be found at: www.gatsby.org.uk

The Governments ‘Post-16 Skills plan’ can be found at: www.gov.uk

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