February 2018

The know zone

  • Bold beginnings?
    At last year's ASCL Annual Conference, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, announced that Ofsted would be undertaking a large-scale review of the curriculum. The review's first report focused on the Reception Year and was published in November. Julie McCulloch looks at what it had to say. More
  • Securing your future
    Managing Director of Lighthouse Financial Advice Ltd Lee Barnard, shares tips and information on future proofing your pensions. More
  • You want more?
    Supervising the lunch queue? Shifts as a security guard and car park attendant? It shouldn't happen to a chartered accountant... unless they are a business leader in an academy, of course. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Careers guidance
    The government wants every school and college in England to have a dedicated careers leader and it has published a careers strategy to highlight this. Here, ASCL members share their views on these plans and on what more can be done to improve careers guidance. More
  • Managing expectations
    Stephen Rollett says preparing for inspection doesn't have to be a difficult process. Here, he shares his top tips to help you through the visit and beyond. More
  • Uncharted waters
    As the government publishes its long-awaited action plan and consultation on T levels, Kevin Gilmartin examines the big issues that the government needs to get right. More
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As the government publishes its long-awaited action plan and consultation on T levels, Kevin Gilmartin examines the big issues that the government needs to get right.

Uncharted waters

Pupils, presently in Year 9, will be able to take the first T levels in digital, construction, education and childcare when they reach Year 12. A sobering thought perhaps. The new, much-hyped technical qualification – the mainstay of the government’s Skills Plan – now seems real. The following year (2021), six more T level routes will come on board and, a year after that, in 2022, all 15 routes will be available.

The government projects that 180,000 students per year will be doing them. That is approximately one in six of our 16–19 year-olds. However, there is still a lot of work to do, especially around getting schools, colleges, employers, young people and parents to buy into them. To this end, there are two important questions that we must ask ourselves and that we will need reassurance on: How confident do we all feel about this? What would we say if a parent asks whether this should influence their child’s Key Stage 4 options?

The Sainsbury Review marked the start of this ambitious process, with the publication of the government’s T level action plan in October being the latest stage (https://tinyurl.com/ya3332yp). New money is also forthcoming with a projected £500 million per annum extra by 2022, much of this to finance the 45-day work placements and the move from 600 to 900 guided learning hours. A sector-wide consultation is now also underway, although some parts of the policy are not up for discussion, specifically that T levels are at Level 3 and that the work placement must be successfully completed for a student to pass the programme (so, a lack of a willing local employer in a specific occupation means that the student may never actually pass that programme). The consultation is available online at https://tinyurl.com/y8c6kxh8 and the deadline for responses is 8 February.

Exploring the options

The ultimate success of T levels will be down to whether or not young people decide to take them up in the first place. When faced with the three options in the table, young people are going to want to know a crucial answer to the question: What does the course lead on to? Perhaps this is where the conundrum really lies. Traditional A levels lead to university. Apprenticeships lead to a job. What do T levels lead to?

It is impossible to expect all employers to offer a guaranteed job at the end of the work placement, so taking a new untried T level qualification is inherently far more risky than taking A levels or apprenticeships. The outcomes and experiences of the pilot cohorts will therefore be crucial to the ongoing success of T levels. If the students do not get jobs at the end (or at least perhaps the offer of a Degree Apprenticeship) then the whole programme will unravel.

Whether the government really appreciates this is a moot point. One has to read all the way through to page 20, the final page of the T level action plan, to find the following “The government will consider how to extend technical education reforms to higher levels, including good progression routes for T levels”. It is unfair to say that this reads as almost an afterthought but surely this should be upfront and foremost in the plan? Similarly, this progression issue should be at the very heart of the consultation, not relegated to questions 26 and 27 of the 45 questions. By contrast, there are ten separate questions in the consultation relating to work placements.

Many of us were once bitten with the 14–19 diploma and are now twice shy in recommending a dramatically new qualification until progression is absolutely clear. We want technical education to succeed. It is right for many of our young people and is right for the future skills base of post-Brexit UK PLC. We have a duty of care to our young people and giving them the right advice is part of this duty. We cannot do that until we know where T levels will lead to. Getting the content, funding, work placements, availability and accountability right is hugely important.

Getting progression opportunities right is crucial.

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist