Last reviewed 5 November 2021

The Department for Education (DfE) highlighted ambitions in Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth (2021) to enable as many young people as possible benefit from T Levels, apprenticeships and approved technical qualifications, but more needs to be done to support pupils access technical education and information.

In this feature, Deborah Bellamy looks at what steps School Leadership Teams (SLTs) might consider to facilitate more post 16-year-old pupils to access technical education and actions to ensure guidance is disseminated more widely in schools, particularly around T Levels.

Offering Wider Opportunities in schools

The Baker Clause (2018) means that DfE expects schools to meet apprenticeship providers and learn about technical education options. They need to offer relevant and meaningful support to address barriers to education, support emotional and/or mental health difficulties, develop study skills and reflective and resilience skills, effectively integrating these to engage and support individual pupils.

Pastoral support also needs to be available to help address barriers to education.

Role of School Leadership Teams

A National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey (2020) indicated 85% of senior leaders had heard of T Levels; however, awareness amongst classroom teachers was significantly lower at 41%.

The SLT has a pivotal role ensuring teaching staff, colleagues and pupils recognise how T Levels, apprenticeships and approved technical education qualifications complement existing post-16 options and appreciate the changing nature of, and opportunities offered via, vocational education.

SLTs are likely to be in differing places with regards to their knowledge around T Levels, relationships with FE providers and planned information sharing activities.

Gleaning information around the breadth of subjects currently available and what is being developed is key as a great deal of Government funding is supporting the T level route.

Teachers have a vital role in providing both students and parents/carers with information on T Levels as a worthy technical alternative to A levels and need to be apprised of this route. Moving forward, the Government plans to incorporate careers awareness into each stage of professional development, from initial training to education leadership.

SLTs should ensure teachers have the means to expand their knowledge base around entry requirements, content, structure, assessment criteria and access to transition programmes. Information on which pupils to target; how T Levels are valued by employers; how comparable they are to other qualifications; and subject availability at local FE providers is needed. Qualification specifications which provide more in-depth information on content and assessment are now more widely available.

SLTs and Careers advisors should ensure opportunities are also available for pupils, parents, and carers to explore prospective pathways and options.

Which Pupils Might Best be Suited to a T Level route?

T Levels are viewed by the government as the option of choice for most 16 to 19-year-olds wishing to progress into skilled employment or onto higher levels of technical education, combining classroom learning and development, practical application of occupationally specific skills, formative and summative assessment and national occupational standards, balanced with a local element to foster participation with employers.

Those contemplating T Levels need to be enquiring and envisage their next steps and where this might get them in relation to jobs, employment and what they will learn during placements. The workplace provides a strong learning environment to gain technical skills and learn soft skills.

Pupils are expected to have a defined idea about which industry they want to get into, and what type of job role they want to explore.

Whilst T Levels were primarily designed for entry into skilled employment, they also enable progression onto apprenticeships or further study/higher education in a related area. The first tranche of approved Higher Technical Qualifications will be introduced from 2022, as a natural progression for the first students completing T Levels.

UCAS Tarif points can also be gained, in line with three A levels with up to 168 points with Distinction*, which means the route to higher education remains a valid option.

T Level Transition Programmes

Some pupils may need additional support to help access advanced technical or higher technical education.

The Sainsbury Review recommended an additional “transition year” for individuals aged 16 to 19, with potential, to develop skills, experience, knowledge, and behaviours acquisition to support progression on to a T Level.

Developing a Longer-term Approach Enabling Pupils to Access Technical Education

The Government wants careers education and guidance to be embedded in the life of every school and college. Acknowledging that most secondary schools will be at variable stages with regards to T Level knowledge, the Government has produced a digital toolkit to support development of a longer term T level approach incorporating resources for teachers, activity planners and a student pack.

A checklist suggests areas for consideration.

  • Incorporating T Levels as a specific element into careers strategy.

  • Engaging with Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for Schools and Colleges Programme (ASK) (LINK see further information) to schedule activities for pupils, staff, parents, and carers covering apprenticeships traineeships and T Levels.

  • Involving SLT in planning programme of activities and exploring potential to incorporate information sharing into inset programmes and staff CPD sessions.

  • Creation of a short survey to gauge understanding of staff of T Levels to identify knowledge gaps.

  • Establishing relationships with local T Level providers to understand what they are currently offering and what is under development. Ascertain when open days or events are on and if they offer to come to school to speak to pupils and staff. Local provision will affect how schools approach T level awareness with pupils and the priority applied to different year groups and activities.

  • Encouraging pupil engagement to visit T Level providers and exploring the option of having a young person undertaking a T Level to share their experience to date.

  • Investigating the employers T Level providers are engaged with and if they would be willing to visit the school. Note, as a developmental qualification, they may not have been fully formalised.

  • Development of a calendar of events to share information with pupils and parents and how this might be incorporated into existing platforms of communication.

  • Linking in with local Careers Hubs (which the Government intends to expand).

  • Incorporating T Level plans into Compass recording (as to how you are meeting statutory duty of working toward achieving the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Careers) which more than 80% of schools and colleges are now using the to develop and improve careers programmes. Why are we doing this, Sir? — a revolution in careers guidance | Croner-i (croneri.co.uk), Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Further information

Free school and college support

The Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for Schools and Colleges Programme (ASK) is available to every educational establishment in England with students in years 10–13. Schools and colleges may complete the ASK request support form available on the Amazing Apprenticeships website.

https://amazingapprenticeships.com/request-support

T-Level-Digital-Toolkit.pdf (amazingapprenticeships.com)

Career Development Institute (CDI)

Pre-written Tweets, text and imagery pre-written materials produced by the CDI as part of the Stakeholders Toolkit. These can be used and amended to provide messaging in communications.

https://www.thecdi.net/T-Levels

Newsletters and updates and Amazing Apprenticeships newsletter available via: https://amazingapprenticeships.com/newsletter.

Finding nearest T Level provider: www.tlevels.gov.uk

Post-16 technical education reforms: T level action plan (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Details of the government’s NexT Level campaign can be found at: T Levels | The Next Level Qualification

Enterprise Adviser Network

More work is planned to connect senior business volunteers with secondary schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision. The providers will benefit from 1:1 support, including advice on how to make connections with employers and develop a careers programme that will deliver the Gatsby Benchmarks. Our Network | The Careers and Enterprise Company

National Careers Service

Website has been updated as source of government-assured careers information for young people and adults Careers advice - job profiles, information and resources | National Careers Service