Stephen Spriggs, Managing Director, William Clarence Education

I’m not surprised that the new technical qualification, the T Level, is being shunned by top universities. The Department for Education (DfE) may describe the T Levels as “world class” qualifications “on a par” with traditional A levels but it’s the unis who will put those theories to the test and right now they’re not convinced.

Commenting on the qualifications, which will be taught from 2020, a spokesperson for Imperial College London, said: “We need to ensure that students are academically able to cope with the rigours of an Imperial degree and we do not believe that T Levels provide a suitable preparation for students.”

It’s a valid point. Throwing students with a handful of T Levels, of which little is known, into a highly competitive degree, which has cost a lot in tuition fees, and then watch them flounder as they fall behind and drop out, or be thrown out is a waste of time for both parties.

I can’t help feeling it’s a case of square peg, round hole. After all, these T Levels were devised to be more vocational. Certainly their 15 subjects – or ‘pathways’ or ‘priority routes’ – are practical subjects such as Social Care and Construction. In which case, it would be totally fair for Unis not to accept them on their academic courses. Think of it the other way – would having three A levels in humanities make you better equipped to work on a building site? 

Yes, there’s a dollop of old-fashioned snobbery here as traditional Unis react against the continuing modernisation of the education system. Half the Russell Group universities, including the in-demand London School of Economics, York and Warwick are as yet undecided. Oxford University, rated the best in the world by the Times Higher Education told TES it was “watching with interest” and will decide about the T Levels when they have “more evidence”.

The fact is, these elite institutions can do what they like as the strength of their brand and global allure is enough to encourage applications from the world’s best students. They don’t have to recognise the Government’s qualifications. Most of them don’t even bother with the A Level any more, preferring to set their own entrance exam and choose the students they see fitting into their establishment, irrespective of how well they do on results day.

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I think introducing new qualifications, which muddy the market, will widen this gap further. The top tier of universities will continue to have its own set of entrance exams; the lower tier, which is starting to rely more on bespoke exams, will have another; and the mediocre places will accept the A Level and possibly the T Level, depending on how it pans out.

T Levels are a great idea for students who want to learn practical skills with a view to future employment but I don’t see why the universities need to take them on just because someone at the DfE woke up with a bright idea one morning.

Stephen Spriggs, Managing Director, William Clarence Education

About William Clarence Education: The leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, William Clarence offers unbiased advice to students and parents from around the world; at every stage of their academic journey.  From Independent School Application and Placement, full UCAS and University application consultancy, Oxbridge Applications  US College Admission and even Homeschooling programmes, William Clarence Education draws on a deep relationship driven network with schools, Universities and senior education figures within the industry.  By putting the student and family at the centre of the process, William Clarence ensures their clients reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of UK education.

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