To mark Careers Week 2023, Adam Goldstein unpacks the role that T Levels are already playing when it comes to learners’ future education and employment plans – with a particular spotlight on industry placements.
Most people in the sector agree that we need an independent and impartial approach to careers advice in our schools.
The current lack of autonomy is further compounded by those schools with sixth forms being effectively incentivised to encourage learners to study A Levels, when it’s linked to their funding.
A varied education ecosystem benefits all routes into employment, from apprenticeships to Further Education and Higher Education, but most importantly it benefits the learners themselves.
By connecting young people with the path that best suits their learning needs, style, and outcomes, it gives them a better chance of success and achieving their goals.
A great example of this is the new T Level qualification. A technical equivalent to A Levels, it blends classroom learning with industry placements and allows students to either progress onto university, move into an apprenticeship, or go straight into employment in their chosen sector.
With the first ever cohort from the Education and Early Years T Level (formerly known as Education and Childcare) having received their final results in summer 2022, we’re now starting to see a fantastic mix of student outcomes and progression and learning more about their personal highlights from the qualification.
A common theme among current and former students is how much they’ve enjoyed the industry placement aspect of T Levels. Being able to put classroom learning into practice has been a really positive experience for many and has helped prepare them for their next steps.
“The industry placement really helped my future plans”
Abigail Tighe was one of the first students in England to undertake a T Level and, after completing her two-year course at Dudley College of Technology, she progressed onto the University of Worcester to study primary teaching.
On how the T Level had prepared her for higher education and beyond, she said: “I decided to study a T Level as I really wanted to have industry placement opportunities. I’m glad I made this decision as it really helped secure my future plans and gave me something to work towards.
“My plans are to become a primary school teacher. My main achievement has been getting into university. I think the course helped a lot with this because I was aware of a lot of the information needed in the interview, so I was in a good position.
“The T Level also made us aware of different roles our course could take us into, and different students chose different pathways. I would definitely recommend T Levels to other students. I really liked how, in my course particularly, we learned a lot of the knowledge in the first year and put it into practice in the second year through observations.
“It’s a great course to choose no matter what steps you are deciding to take next.”
It’s fantastic to hear first-hand how much Abigail enjoyed her course and how it gave her the platform to achieve her goal of getting into university. She’s now able to continue her career journey to becoming a primary school teacher.
“Placement has definitely been the highlight from my course”
Echoing Abigail’s thoughts towards the industry placements is current Education and Childcare T Level student Ellie Scadden, who credits the experiences with helping to shape her career direction while studying at Scarborough Sixth Form College.
She said: “Placement has definitely been my main highlight from this course. I have attended three different placements, which has allowed me to work closely with practitioners to extend my own learning and experiences. Placement providers and staff make you feel very welcome, and they fully support you with how to meet the needs of their children.
“As you spend large amounts of time in the setting, you effectively become one of the staff members, and receive amazing feedback and support with your work. Placement has been an amazing learning experience and has helped me decide what I would like to do with my future.”
Ellie is an interesting example of how the industry placement actually altered her career plans. Having initially looked at working in early years, her experience in an alternative setting put Ellie on a different path.
“I have had the opportunity to work with parents and carers, external agencies to support individual needs, designated safeguarding leads and officers, as well as managers and practitioners to support my own practice,” she explains.
“Because of my experience in a primary school, I am now looking to study to become a primary teacher. Without this experience, I am not sure that I would be doing this, and instead would stay in a nursery.”
New industry placement delivery approaches
Of course, despite these positive experiences which have clearly supported individuals in their career progression, industry placements do come with their own challenges including accessibility issues, regional disparities, and the need for placements to reflect the modern workplace (which can often be remote or hybrid in nature).
We were pleased to see some changes recently being introduced to tackle these barriers and support how T Level industry placements can be delivered, following significant engagement with employers and providers.
By better reflecting employer working patterns and common industry practice the new delivery approaches are intended to provide more flexibility, widen the pool of employers that can offer placements and help to ensure students can access high-quality and meaningful placements across the country, and across all industries.
Importance of choice
From careers advice and guidance to the qualifications themselves, what’s clear throughout is the importance of well-informed choice. By offering a wide variety of new experiences, including work experience placements and tasters of different occupations, we can help learners make informed decisions about their future.
We know from our own career paths, they often aren’t linear and it’s only through understanding our strengths and weaknesses, what we like, and importantly what we don’t like, that we end up where we want to be – even if we didn’t know it when we started.
Adam Goldstein leads on operations and delivery at NCFE, managing teams in product, assessment, and provider support. He first became involved in education as a policy and legislation lead at the DfE, sparking a lifelong interest in education and learning as a tool for social mobility. Adam is also Chair of Barnet and Southgate College and is a long-standing trustee of the learning disability charity Macintyre.