From education to employment

Two years of T Levels: On the frontline of the trailblazing technical qualification

Zac and Ellie

This week, the first full cohort of students complete the government-backed T Level qualification.

Around 1,300 students embarked on the first three T Levels in 2020, with more than 5,000 then signing up in 2021. From September, a total of 17 subjects will be on offer at over 175 colleges and schools across England.

Despite this being set to increase to 400 by September 2023, and more big-name employers than ever supporting the route, including the recently announced partnership with Specsavers, more still needs to be done to raise awareness of this technical equivalent to A Levels.

To better understand the benefits T Levels can offer, we sat down with two pioneers who have been closest to them from their conception – but from completely different perspectives.

Ellie Hearn has just completed her Education and Childcare T Level and is planning to study Primary Education at Brighton University from September.

Zac Aldridge is the Director of Qualifications and Assessment at the educational charity and leader in vocational and technical learning NCFE, who was chosen by government to spearhead the development of the qualification.

Q: What are the benefits of choosing a T Level instead of another option or work?

Ellie: “I loved how I could get experience in the industry before settling into a job or apprenticeship in the teaching sector, whilst also learning key knowledge and information to help me explore teaching in a lot of detail.

“I’ve wanted to go into the teaching profession since I was very young – however, an apprenticeship wasn’t going to give me the skills I needed to become a primary school teacher. The T Level is also a good mix of both academic and hands-on learning. I love how it combines both.”

Zac: “I think the main benefits have to be the employer involvement and industry placement. From the outset, the qualifications are created with current and future skills needs in mind and they’re genuinely developed by the employers they’re designed to serve.”

Q: What are the skills students develop whilst studying a T Level?

Ellie: “I’ve become more confident. Coming from a different high school, I was put into a T Level class not knowing anyone but have come out with a group of 12 good friends! During the employer set project, I’ve developed research tools that will help me at university and throughout my placement.

“I’ve also developed my communication skills through talking to children, parents, and professionals. Placement has also allowed me to develop professional relationships with the teachers which has helped me develop my skills massively!”

Zac: “The Level 3 Technical Qualification in Education and Childcare provides students with all of the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to progress into skilled employment or higher-level study in the education and childcare sector.

“From feedback, we’ve also heard that students are able to really develop their essential, transferable skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork and resilience, particularly through their placements. This helps to set them up for whatever their next steps are in life.”

Q: What are the highlights of your T Level experience over the past two years?

Ellie: “I loved my T Level. A ‘wow’ moment for me during placement was when an autistic child who is mute said a few words to me during a lesson. It was such a rewarding moment which is just the start of a rewarding career. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasks of observing children. I love seeing them progress in their development and how they change from day to day.”

Zac: “It’s definitely been a highlight hearing directly from T Level students like Ellie about their experiences. We’ve also been fortunate enough to have students come and speak at our internal events, who have blown us away with their enthusiasm, confidence, and ambition.

“Other huge milestones for us have included being selected as the Awarding Organisation (AO) for what is now nine of the T Levels, with the most recent additions being Hairdressing, Barbering and Beauty Therapy, Media, Broadcast and Production, and Craft and Design. This makes us the largest AO for T Levels in the country.”

Q: Have T Levels lived up to your expectations?

Ellie: “Studying the Education and Childcare T Level has been what I expected and more! It has allowed me to grow not just as a person, but as a future education professional. Overall, I don’t think I could have learned so much if I had of chosen to study A Levels or an apprenticeship.”

Zac: “I’m so glad to hear from Ellie that the qualification has set her up for her future. T Levels are an intrinsic part of the government’s ambitions to level up and develop a world leading skills economy. I’m delighted to see further and technical education being afforded such a positive spotlight as part of this positive new path. For me, T Levels have exceeded our expectations.”

Q: What are the next steps for you on your journey?

Ellie: “I’ve now confirmed my place at Brighton University to study Primary Education with QTS, which I’m very excited about. I achieved four other offers, including one which was an integrated master’s course, and two unconditional offers.

“My dream job is to become a primary school teacher around the Year 2 age, although the role of a Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities Coordinator is something I’ve thought about too. It’s such an interesting and rewarding role! Special Educational Needs is something I’ve really become passionate about during in my time in placement.”

Zac: “As I mentioned earlier, NCFE has just been awarded three new T Levels which will be available for first delivery from September 2023, so we’re focusing a lot of our efforts on the development of these fantastic new qualifications.

“We’re also working closely with our current providers to support them in their delivery of T Levels, ensuring all students have an experience like Ellie’s. Finally, there’s still a lot of work to be done in increasing awareness of T Levels so that they are truly seen by all as a quality option for post-16 school leavers.

“In particular, we’ll be looking to increase employer appetite for T Levels, particularly around industry placement.”

Zac Aldridge, is the Director of Qualifications and Assessment at NCFE, chats with Ellie Hearn

Ellie Hearn has just completed her Education and Childcare T Level and is planning to study Primary Education at Brighton University from September.

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