T-levels are central to the reforms the government is making to the technical education system – they are two-year technical study programmes for 16 to 19-year-olds that include a qualification and industry placement. T-levels will give students a technical alternative to A-levels, with the aim to help them progress into skilled employment.
This guidance outlines the need-to-know information about T-levels for schools and colleges, including what T-levels are, how they will be assessed, and how they will be funded.
What are T-levels?
Students will be offered a mixture of classroom or workshop-based learning and ‘on the job’ experience in the following industries through T-levels:
- Education and childcare
- Engineering and manufacturing
- Health and science
- Legal, finance and accounting
- Hair and beauty
- Agriculture, environment and animal care
- Business and administration
- Catering and hospitality
- Creative and design
T-levels will provide students with:
- Technical knowledge and practical skills in their chosen occupation or industry.
- A placement in their chosen industry or occupation lasting at least 45 days.
- Relevant maths, English and digital skills.
- Common workplace skills.
When do T-levels start?
The delivery of T-levels will be phased in from September 2020; after this, further T-levels will be introduced from September 2021 in annual waves. The first T-level subjects that will be delivered by a small number of providers from September 2020 are as follows:
- Digital route – software applications design and development T-level
- Construction route – design, surveying and planning T-level
- Education and childcare route – education T-level
A list of the providers that have been selected to deliver T-levels in the 2020/2021 academic year has been published and can be found here.
Changes to the construction route T-level for 2020/2021
The DfE had previously planned to deliver the building services engineering T-level rather than the design, surveying and planning T-level from September 2020. The content for both T-levels was tested with a view to choosing the most advanced pathway for delivery in 2020. Because of the review, the design, surveying and planning T-level was decided to have the most advanced content and, therefore, will be delivered from September 2020 – the building services engineering T-level will follow for first delivery in 2021.
Providers who submitted an expression of interest to deliver the building services engineering T-level in 2020, and are successful, will be asked if they want to deliver the design, surveying and planning T-level instead. If providers choose not to do this, they can still offer the other pathways they applied to deliver.
On 30 May 2018, the ESFA issued a new expression of interest for any providers wishing to deliver the design, surveying and planning T-level from September 2020 – the process will conclude by the end of October 2018.
How do T-levels work with apprenticeships and A-levels?
Alongside apprenticeships and A-levels, T-levels will become one of the three main options for post-16 students.
T-levels and apprenticeships will be based on the same standards for their relevant occupations, approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA).
After completing a T-level, students will be able to choose between moving to a skilled occupation, higher or degree-level apprenticeships, or higher-level technical study (including HE).
How are T-levels being funded?
Funding to support T-level delivery has been set aside by the DfE, rising to an extra £500 million per year. The government plans to consult further on funding arrangements in Autumn 2018.
How are T-levels being developed?
In May 2018, the DfE published its response to the consultation on the implementation of T-levels, which provided further information regarding how T-levels will be developed – the full response can be read here.
The outline content for the first T-levels are being designed by employers with support from the DfE and IfA. Later in 2018, a procurement exercise will take place identifying awarding organisations to develop the full content and assessments for the first three T-levels – these will then be approved by the IfA.
The DfE’s development plans for T-levels are being continually reviewed, refined and retested in line with outcomes from previous tests with students, providers and employers. Due to this approach, in certain circumstances, final details about how the programme will work will be confirmed later than providers and employers may be used to.
In the future, technical education functions will transfer to the IfA, which will then change its name to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.
How are T-levels structured?
The IfA’s occupational maps will define the subject range of T-level programmes – the maps group together occupations that require similar knowledge, skills and behaviours. The IfA’s consultation on occupational maps ran alongside the DfE’s T-level implementation consultation – the IfA’s response to the consultation can be found here.
Groups of employers will define the skills and requirements for programmes for each industry through T-level panels. The panels will also develop and outline the content for each qualification, based on the same standards as apprenticeships. Education providers will then decide how to structure the courses they offer.
The draft content for the first three T-levels has been published on the IfA’s website – views are being sought on these drafts. The IfA will publish the final content for the first three T-levels in Autumn 2018.
T-levels are expected to take 1,800 hours over two years. There will be three mandatory elements of each T-level programme:
The ‘core’ will be split into the following two parts:
- Developing underpinning technical knowledge and skills relevant to their chosen industry. This involves understanding how the industry works, understanding how occupational specialisms fit within the industry, and knowing what the working practices in the industry look like.
- Completing an employer-set project, which requires students to apply their core knowledge and skills to achieve a challenge or brief.
This element will be delivered in a classroom-based environment, including workshops and simulated working environments. Depending on which T-level programme they are studying, students may study one or two specialisms.
Students will aim to achieve ‘threshold competence’, which provides evidence of achievement in work-specific skills. The time it takes to reach this threshold will vary between T-levels.
Industry or occupational specialisms will be based on the same standards as apprenticeships.
Each T-level must contain an industry placement with an employer – these will last for a minimum of 45 days but could last up to 60 working days. The DfE will confirm how industry placements should be delivered once a number of pilots have been completed.
Additionally, the DfE is funding providers to deliver approximately 23,000 industry placements during the 2018/2019 academic year. This will enable the concept of placements to be tested, lessons to be learned from the trial, and the confidence of providers and employers to be built.
Target standards for providers and employers to meet on placements have been published – these will be reviewed and finalised following the completion of the pilots.
When on an industry placement, there is no legal requirement or expectation that students will be paid; however, employers are free to pay students should they wish to.
How are T-levels assessed and graded?
Licensed awarding organisations will develop the full details of T-level assessments to be used after the overarching T-level requirements and content are finalised.
Students will be awarded an overall ‘pass’ grade if they achieve all the required components of the programme. The different components of the qualification will be graded separately on the T-level certificate.
The DfE is looking into how higher overall grades could be awarded above a pass – i.e. ‘merit’ and ‘distinction’.
What about students not ready to start a level 3 programme?
Not all students who want to start a T-level will be ready to do so at 16 years old. The DfE plans to offer a transition phase to help students get to the required standard to undertake a T-level.
The DfE will work with the IfA, providers and sector bodies throughout 2018 to gather evidence on existing transition programmes. The work will also be informed by a review of level 2 qualifications to establish which qualifications are suitable for the transition offer.
What are the next steps?
The government is asking providers to complete three surveys over the coming months – each survey will ask different but linked questions about the following:
- Current teachers and leaders
- Current plans around T-level delivery
- Views on a variety of post-16 issues
The next post-16 omnibus survey is expected to run from Spring 2018 – schools and colleges can take part in this survey when it is released. Questions in this survey have recently covered A-level reforms, careers education and T-levels.
The ESFA is running a T-level data collection until the 6 July 2018 about providers’ plans to implement T-levels in their organisation.
The collection will ask questions about which routes providers will deliver and to how many students, what support is needed to deliver the programmes, and what facilities and equipment providers have.
It is not compulsory to complete the survey; however, all providers who plan to offer T-levels are being encouraged to supply the requested information. The data collection can be completed here.
The following steps will also be taken throughout the rest of 2018:
- An organisation will be identified by the DfE to work with them to design and deliver support for providers – this is expected to be available from Summer 2019 for providers delivering T-levels from September 2020.
- Market engagement sessions will be held to refine the design of the procurement and roles and responsibilities of awarding organisations who will design and administer the provision of the first three T-levels.
- An invitation to tender will be launched for awarding organisations to bid for the exclusive licence for the qualifications in the first three T-levels.
- The approach to funding for T-levels will be developed further through discussions with providers and other stakeholders.
- Guidance will be published to help employers and providers effectively source, design and implement industry placements.
- The DfE will set out details of the plan for the review of qualifications and how stakeholders are engaged.
- The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) will start providing support to employers delivering industry placements.
- Providers delivering the first three T-levels from 2020 will complete implementation plans setting out the actions they are taking to get ready to deliver the T-levels and highlighting further support needed.
- The responses to the following consultations have been published:
- Funding started to be released from the Industry Placement Capacity and Delivery Fund for industry placements during the 2018/2019 academic year
- Providers selected to deliver the first three T-levels in the 2020/2021 academic year have been announced
- A data collection exercise for providers to tell the DfE what support they need to deliver T-levels was launched
- Information about how providers can express an interest to deliver T-levels in the 2021/2022 academic year will be published
- First industry placements funded by the Industry Placement Capacity and Deliver Fund to begin
- First T-level programmes start for specific occupations in three industries:
- Software application development (digital industry)
- Design, surveying and planning (construction industry)
- Education (education and childcare industry)
DfE (2018) ‘Implementation of T Level programmes’
DfE (2018) ‘Introduction of T levels: information for education providers’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/introduction-of-t-levels-information-for-education-providers/introduction-of-t-levels-information-for-education-providers> [Accessed: 30 May 2018]
ESFA (2018) ‘T Levels: next steps for providers’ <https://www.gov.uk/guidance/t-levels-next-steps-for-providers?utm_source=a66d6e81-69e7-4ba5-b9d2-4e9f64cc4118&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate#providers-delivering-t-levels-in-the-2021-to-2022-academic-year> [Accessed: 30 May 2018]