From education to employment

In the Dark on #TLevels : #HE Wants a Long-term Commitment to the Applied General

Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC)

UVAC was established 20 years ago by the HE sector to champion higher-level vocational learning.

Today we have 93 HEI members that support our agenda.

T levels are new and design specifications haven’t been fully determined (but are being piloted and primed for first delivery in 2020/21) so if HEIs don’t have a full understanding of T levels it would be understandable.

What, however, is concerning is that HE awareness is negligible. For policy makers this lack of awareness should ring alarm bells.

Parents I’d guess will want T levels to have some sort of equivalence with A levels and to secure such parity HE acceptance will be critical.

HE will be T levels’ key customer 

HE will be a key ‘customer’ of T levels as some young people completing T levels will want HE to accept their T level as an entry qualification.

What does this mean?

  1. Firstly, we need to ensure T levels are appropriate for HE entry. This means HE colleagues need to be involved in their specification and design from day one.
  2. Secondly, HE needs to have sufficient time to design and validate HE programmes that support entrants with T levels successfully complete an appropriate HE programme.
  3. Finally, we need a comprehensive awareness-raising campaign across HE for both programme leads and admissions staff.

The position of Applied Generals

The next issue I’d like to raise is the position of Applied Generals, of which BTEC Nationals are the most well-known example alongside other qualifications such as Cambridge Technicals.

From an HE perspective let me make it quite clear, Applied Generals have made a significant contribution to supporting young people progress to higher education, have widened participation and supported social mobility.

The Government’s response to the T level consultation in May 2018 confirmed that Government agreed with this analysis. Tech levels have also a valuable track record.

There is, however, an issue – the DfE mantra still seems to be there will be just three options for young people:

  1. A levels (academic)
  2. T Levels (technical), and
  3. Apprenticeship (occupational).

So where do other qualifications fit?

Applied Generals are of course, very different to T levels. T levels from my perspective are demanding, but relatively narrow and focus on a specific occupation.

If a sixteen-year-old is clear on the occupation they want to purse a T level is fine. But what of the individual who wants to explore a broader vocational area, which Applied Generals allow?

Applied Generals have also been successfully combined with A levels. This has supported individuals learn in different ways and keep open a broad range of progression options.

Given the size of T levels individuals will not have the option to combine T levels with A levels.

T level coverage

I’ve also got a worry about T level coverage. In many ways the 45 – 60 day required industry placement is a great concept.But given this requirement will all T levels be available in all geographical localities – rural and costal areas being a good example?

Doesn’t this leave a gap that Applied Generals could fill?

T levels also don’t embrace all occupational areas, for example:

  • Sport
  • Performing arts, and aspects of
  • Travel and tourism

So, on T levels my plea to the DfE and IfATE is to talk to and work with the HE sector now before it’s too late.

We want T levels to be a success and they can be, but to ensure their success HE needs to be fully engaged.

It’s also critical we don’t lose the Applied General and indeed other qualifications and the contribution they’ve made to widening participation and social mobility.

Could HE, as a key customer, have a commitment that Applied Generals will continue to be offered where they’re needed?

Adrian Anderson, Chief ExecutiveUniversity Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) 

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