John Widdowson, Former FE Principal

Level 3 #TLevels 

T levels are new Level 3 qualifications, to be studied over two years after GCSE. They will form one of three pathways alongside GCE A levels for those wishing to continue an academic education and Apprenticeships for those who wish to acquire skills and knowledge on the job. T levels are explicitly designed with employer involvement “to give students the skills that industry needs”.

A key part of the qualification is an extensive period of work placement and an employer set project. T levels will cover a broad range of disciplines from health and education, through construction to engineering, legal services, catering and hair, beauty and aesthetics.

Successful students will form the core of the skilled workforce of the future. As such, they will need not only the skills needed for the jobs which currently exist but also the ability to adapt to the technologies and jobs which will be created in decades to come. To be credible, this new generation of highly valued technical qualifications will need to attract the highest calibre young people.

To achieve that, the pathway to employment and further study must be clear, and the curriculum on offer attractive to young people, engaging their interest and giving them confidence in their future. It must teach skills and knowledge of immediate use, to make the qualifications credible to them and to prospective employers as well as inspiring them to new roles and careers over their working life. And alongside those vital skills for jobs, young people studying T levels will expect their studies to prepare them for life in a fast changing society.

Preparation for Life, Net Zero and All T Levels

Fundamental to that will be the environmental concerns shared by many young people and in particular achieving Net Zero as a key challenge going forward. If T levels fail to reflect this, it will be more difficult to attract students and thus the potential of T levels will be unfulfilled. It is therefore imperative that the T level curriculum has the right balance between specifically focused skills, inevitably aimed at the jobs we have today, and the wider skills and awareness needed for the jobs which will be created over the coming decades, in jobs we can only imagine.

Against this background, examination of the T levels already approved from 2020 and those planned to be delivered up to 2023 reveals a mixed picture. It is unsurprising that qualifications designed in close collaboration with employers should contain a high proportion of very practical and immediately applicable skills and knowledge. For instance, T levels in business related occupations such as HR, Finance and Legal Services make reference to corporate social responsibility but without specific mention of environmental matters.

The pressure to include such a broad range of subject matter has resulted in many T level syllabuses being content rich, but potentially lacking in the overview and urgency, which is of such interest to our young people. As such they present challenges for teachers not only to ensure that all relevant topics are covered in appropriate depth but also that they can be delivered in a way which students with little experience as yet of the world of work will find interesting and inspiring.

Strict adherence to these detailed syllabuses risks making T levels unexciting and lacking in inspiration. This would be a mistake not only in terms of the success of the qualifications themselves but also in their ability to create a new generation of confident career technicians.

Specific Green Level 3 T Levels

In some cases, there is very explicit reference to Green issues. For example, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the T level Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care; Agriculture Land Management and Production contains very explicit coverage of sustainability as separate areas of study.

There are also those issues such as the impact of climate change, sustainable solutions and recycling which will be of direct interest to all students aspiring to be skilled technicians whatever their discipline. However, other specifications are less explicit. The T level Construction: Design, Surveying and Planning covers the design process and buildability but makes brief mention of lean and alternative technologies and only then in the context of practical application rather than that of sustainable and green development.

Recommendation 1

Providers and teachers should be given a high level of flexibility and discretion to design teaching materials and approaches to learning to reflect “bigger picture” issues. Teachers need the freedom to develop the curriculum organically as technologies change thus ensuring that T levels respond to the interest and aspirations of students as well as meeting the immediate needs of employers.

Recommendation 2

Providers and teachers should take maximum opportunity to bring T level students from different disciplines together to consider cross-cutting issues such as Net Zero and other Green issues. This will encourage creative thinking across discipline boundaries and prepare students for future jobs which cut across those boundaries. It will draw on expertise found across the whole range of T levels.

Recommendation 3

T levels must be seen as part of a long term strategy for our future workforce rather than as a response to immediate needs.

John Widdowson, Former FE Principal

Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills

The UK needs comprehensive jobs and skills plan to successfully support and drive the transition to Net Zero.  

This is the conclusion of Campaign for Learning on publishing a new collection of expert views - Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills,

This pamphlet brings together experts on Net Zero and post-16 education, skills and employment policy. The sixteen contributors offer real insights about how post-16 education and skills policy can support the race to Net Zero here in the UK.

Contributors to Racing to Net Zero:

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance Greening the Economy, Greening the Environment
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute A more ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan
Paul Nowak, TUC Workers, Skills and the Net Zero Economy
Duncan Brown, Emsi The Demand for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Ewart Keep, University of Oxford Labour Market Intelligence for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Jane Hickie, AELP Filling Green Jobs with Level 2+ Apprenticeships
Calum Carson, ERSA Filling Green Jobs through Employment Support Schemes
David Hughes, Association of Colleges FE Colleges, Upskilling, Reskilling and Net Zero
Susan Pember, HOLEX Adult and Community Education and Net Zero
Nick Hillman, HEPI Universities and Net Zero
Bill Watkin, Six Form Colleges Association 16-18 Education and Net Zero
John Widdowson, Former FE Principal 16-18 Level 3 T Levels and Net Zero
Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum
Charlotte Bonner, Education and Training Foundation Education for Sustainable Development and the FE Workforce
Adrian Anderson, UVAC Green Jobs, Apprenticeships and Higher Technical Education
Victoria Hands and Stephen Peake, The Open University Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education

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