The Department for Education has announced that new T Level qualifications will be rolled out in England from the 2020-21 school year onwards. These qualifications are aimed primarily at 16 to 19 year-olds and are set to become one of the main choices for post-16 education alongside apprenticeships and GCE-Advanced Level (A Level) academic qualifications.

Reforms to VET to ensure high-quality outcomes for learners

The Department for Education (DfE) has indicated that it would like there to be clearer and simpler high-quality options for students who opt to follow a technical education route after GCSEs. The DfE is currently undertaking a review of qualifications at EQF level 4 and below (excluding GCSEs and A Levels), which aims to ensure that every qualification is necessary and has a distinct purpose, is of high quality and supports progression to positive outcomes. T Levels will offer a high-quality option for students who want to choose technical study over academic study.

Involving employers in VET design

T Levels are based on the same standards as reformed apprenticeships. The outline content for T Levels is  designed by T Level panels led by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute), made up of groups of employers and other experts. The courses are approved by the Institute, before awarding organisations turn the content into a qualification which can be assessed.

The panels define the skills and knowledge requirements for each T Level to ensure that students taking T Levels will develop the technical knowledge and skills required by employers in the respective industry. Employers taking part include Fujitsu, IBM, EDF, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, and the British Army.

T Level programmes will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area, specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career;
  • a meaningful industry placement with an employer;
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved these;

T Levels will take two years to complete, with the total time necessary for the course estimated at 1 800 hours, including a 315-hour (45 days) industry placement.  As most current VET courses are significantly shorter in duration, this will be a considerable increase in both duration and level of demand.

Industry placements will make up 20% of the course, with students spending 80% of their time in the classroom. This is different from an apprenticeship where learners typically spend 80% on the job and 20% in the classroom. An industry placement is also different from work experience, which is typically much shorter and usually involves a learner job-shadowing rather than taking on greater responsibilities, which would be expected in an apprenticeship.

Assessment and progression opportunities

Students who pass all the elements of their T Level (technical qualification and basic skills assessed in the VET institution and industry placement completed in the workplace) will receive a nationally recognised certificate at EQF level 4 showing an overall grade of pass, merit, distinction or distinction*. T Levels aim to lead to skilled employment, but will also allow access to further study at EQF level 5, higher degree apprenticeships and to degree courses (at institutional discretion).

Gradual implementation and sectors involved

T Levels are being introduced in waves. The first three programmes in digital, construction, and education and childcare (wave 1) will start in 2020; 50 high-performing providers have been selected to deliver the courses. The second wave of seven more T Levels will be introduced in 2021 to be taught by around 64 providers, with the third and fourth waves following in 2022 and 2023.

Read more:

T Levels: what they are  

T-Levels – video

T Level action plans 2017, 2018, 2019

Policy paper on the Post-16 skills plan and independent report on technical education

Higher and degree apprenticeships

Cedefop Refernet (2018) Taking teaching further High quality training for vocational qualifications in key sectors

T- Level providers (2020-2022)