From education to employment

T Levels in a time of Turmoil

Cath Sezen, Senior Policy Manager - Further Education with the Association of Colleges

@EducationGovUK and @GillianKeegan confirm plans for #TLevels 2020 are on track 

DfE and the Skills Minister Gillian Keegan have recently confirmed that plans for T Levels 2020 are on track. Providers now have the full specifications and college teams are finalising their plans.

Clearly this will be not quite the September 2020 start that was envisaged, but colleges have invested a great deal of time and energy in preparation and year 11 applicants are keen to embark upon the courses to which they have signed up.

Behind the scenes the Education and Training Foundation’s T Level Professional Development offer continues with face-to-face modules having been moved online. Awarding organisations are also working with providers to help them think through how best to deliver the T Level specification and colleges are putting their programmes together, ready to welcome the first T Level students in September.

At the same time AoC colleagues are working with some of the 2020 providers as they finalise plans for their Transition Programme offers. Here the focus will be on preparing students for a 2021 start in T Levels. They are adopting different approaches to meet the needs of their local students but all based on the guiding framework of comprehensive diagnostic and guidance period, introductory technical skills, English and maths, pastoral and personal development, work experience and preparation. We are also looking forward to welcoming some of the 2021 providers to join the Transition Programme Project in the near future.

Of course, there are concerns. Some of them are exactly the same as they will be for any education course this autumn, be it at primary, secondary, college or university; we anticipate that social distancing will mean reduced class sizes and therefore reduced face-to-face contact.

Colleges are considering the best approaches for the different types of programme they run. It is likely, based on the current rules, that colleges will be introducing blended learning approaches with some delivery online, which has proven successful since the beginning of lockdown in March.

The Challenge of Industry Placements

There is one specific issue that colleges come back to time and again; supply of industry placements. Extended industry placements distinguish T Levels from other study programmes (with some notable exceptions such as childcare where there is already a requirement for a much longer placement).

Surveys indicate that placements are an attractive element for prospective students who are motivated by the opportunity to have experience of a work environment relevant to their course. However, in the current climate, with businesses trying to get back on their feet, implementing social distancing, some staff still shielding and the prospect, already being realised in some companies, of redundancies and permanent closures, securing placements will undoubtably be more challenging.

This challenge extends beyond those colleges delivering T Levels in 2020 to all colleges engaged in the industry placement capacity and delivery fund (CDF) programme. This funding has, over the past three years, allowed colleges to build on existing relationships with businesses and develop new ones. Hundreds of students have experienced successful placements with very positive feedback from them, their parents/cares and employers. It has helped all the students to get a real taste of work in their chose career paths and for some has resulted in offers of employment at the end of their course.

The funding comes with a target of placing an increasing number of students year on year. In previous years college placement co-ordinators have risen to this challenge, but there is real anxiety in the sector that that they will not be able to deliver on next academic year’s target in such difficult economic times. They would like to see a more realistic target and Government focus on encouraging more employers to get involved.

Despite the new challenges they face, colleges are determined that their T Level programmes will be a success and that they students will have a high-quality experience. T Levels offer a new way of focusing the technical skills needed by business to help us recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Colleges shouldn’t feel they are alone and unheard in meeting the requirements to offer students the opportunity to experience the world of work in their chosen career path. We are all in this together. Let’s take on the turmoil by strategically engaging all employers to get involved – now can be the time to make a real difference.

Cath Sezen, Senior Policy Manager – Further Education with the Association of Colleges

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