T-Levels explicitly set out to equip young people with the knowledge and skills required to enter skilled employment. At the 14-16 year period the lower percentile of students who are disaffected by formal education need an alternative route/pathway to level 3 qualifications and the access to quality skilled employment.
The Department for Education’s consultation on T-Levels shows that 80% of the sample used agreed that level 2 and below qualifications should be reviewed. More significantly, there was a call for the implementation of non-GCSE qualifications for 14-16 year olds.
Non-GCSE qualification, such as technical qualifications, support students with additional complex needs and have contributed to a decline in exclusions and absences as research has shown. Qualifications can be a goal to aim for and become an important source of personal motivation for disaffected students throughout their course of study and beyond.
I propose a new technical pathway be introduced, with a similar framework to the current EBacc system. Students opting for this new ‘technical pathway’ would be required to take GCSEs in maths and English alongside a suite of technical qualifications (BTEC first certificates and First diplomas). This pathway should be tailored to prepare the targeted cohort of students primarily for T-levels or applied general routes (such as BTECs), with further scope to transition to the more academic path should the student desire this. Alongside the compulsory maths and English GCSEs, students would receive advice and guidance supports for carers, technical and fundamental skill work through their technical qualifications, and work experience. The focus of this alternative pathway should be to promote employment credentials and further education benefits for the individual rather than collecting qualifications that will have a marginal benefit in comparison to their future employment.
In the government’s skill plan it was set out to provide students with a clear choice between high quality technical and academic options. The government believed that this clarity and distinctiveness of role should apply to all qualifications at level 3 and below, giving students clear choices in the qualifications they study. With the introduction of a scaled back version of the T-level system for 14-16 year olds, students are able to see a clear choice between high quality technical and academic options for their future. This choice, however, would not be binary as there would be scope to allow students to diverge to academic options should they choose the technical option at the earlier stage. Furthermore, a third option would also present itself in applied general route. Thus, preserving choice for student’s future paths in education, employment or training. This gives the student the clear choice in the qualifications they study alongside the core subjects of maths and English and the ability to pursue the subjects they enjoy and are interested in, prompting a greater engagement in school and their future.
Students taking up this particular pathway are streamlining their education, skills and employability towards technical level qualifications and jobs. This process could be linked to the new T-Level qualification being rolled out in 2019/20, giving these students a clear pathway to level 3 qualifications having already consolidated some core knowledge and core components of the technical qualification they are pursuing, which can be built upon under the new T-level scheme.
Department for Education research shows that students would prefer to start their T-Level courses by obtaining broad knowledge about their chosen subjects, then further progressing onto specialised work place skills. The desire for core knowledge of the student’s subject initially could be learnt and tested during the 14-16 year old period of schooling at level 1 and 2 technical qualifications. By obtaining a basic knowledge of the subject at an earlier stage, students can streamline their progression through qualifications that provide them with value for future employment, and the opportunity to accelerate their understanding of subjects that interest them by building upon prior knowledge going into the T-Level/ level 3 qualifications and or employment post 16.
In addition, respondents to the T-level consultation thought it might be difficult to develop a value-added measure for students who wish to study T-levels, as GCSEs are bad outcome predictors for students who wish to take technical qualifications. By implementing this technical pathway between the ages of 14-16, a value-added measure will have been created as further education institutions can look at technical qualification outcomes (test scores) as a predictor for how the student will fair at the next level of qualification.
Research from Allen et al (2016) and William et al (2017) highlights the necessity for school curriculums to be flexible in design and to create programmes of study that are tailored to individual students and their needs. In light of this, the new technical pathway I propose would provide an alternative route for those seeking level 2 qualification, but do not currently prosper from the GCSE system.
Every qualification obtained for an individual should be progressive, offering a clear line of sight to higher levels of study or high quality employment. This aligns with Ofsted’s new framework of a sharper focus on what is taught and how it is taught in schools preparing pupils to succeed at the next stage. Currently the system does not prepare ALL pupils for the next stage as demonstrated by those with Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those from less privileged backgrounds, like those qualifying for free school meals.
Research shows that the highest study aim for those from these two particular cohorts scores highest in level 1 qualifications with 64% and 33% respectively. Only 9% of students with SEND, and 10% who qualify for free school meals achieve level 3 qualifications. A new pathway needs to be formed to help ignite those disadvantaged groups passion for school and their ability to acquire the skills they need to entire quality employment. By providing a new technical route at an earlier age in their schooling, students are able to have a clear progressive goal for their future which can help act as a source of personal motivation, propelling them towards greater achievement.