FE News podcast with Cath Sezen, Senior Policy Manager – Further Education with the Association of Colleges. Cath chats about the T Level programme to date and what the future developments could hold.
Youngsters today are likely to have a 50-year career. T-levels can play a major role in equipping them, if we keep certain strategies in mind, says Stephen Evans
As we wait to find out who will succeed Theresa May, and whether this leads to a changed ministerial team in the Department for Education, one thing that is unlikely to change is the focus on T-levels as a key way to improve skills. How do we make sure they help people in their career aspirations and deliver the skills needs of employers?
The latest report from our Youth Commission, which we set up to consider how to improve education and employment outcomes for young people, shows that young people are likely to have 50-year careers. This means they are likely to change roles a number of times.
Even if they stay in the same occupation, the skills needed in that occupation are likely to change dramatically. Our report, Tomorrow’s World: Future of the Labour Market, considers how the labour market is likely to change during young people’s working lives, and suggests a number of issues we need to consider in order to make T-levels fit for the future.
Firstly, T-levels need to be both specific, and broad: specific enough to deliver the skills to equip students for their chosen occupational role now, and sufficiently broad in content to focus on how young people can adapt to change and build core employability skills in the future.
Secondly, T-levels need to be part of a pathway; it’s no good having the best T-levels in the world if there is
And we additionally need support for young people who may have done A-levels or other vocational qualifications, but now want to take a different path. We also need to consider how T-levels could or should apply to adults, wanting to update their skills or change careers.
Likewise, place matters too: what about young people living in an area with too few employers to offer an industry placement? We need to find solutions to ensure T-levels deliver across the country.
Third, the qualification needs to be recognised by employers. The government is currently grappling with whether to stop funding other vocational qualifications, such as BTECs, or wait until T-levels are the most popular choice before turning off funding for other qualifications.
Leaving aside that there are some areas that T-levels won’t cover, you don’t make one qualification more credible by stopping the funding of the ones that are in place already. The new qualification on the block will be valued by employers once they are convinced that they have equipped young recruits with the skills they need: given the gradual roll-out of T-levels, this will take time.
The fourth point to consider is the help offered to employers. Our research shows that they want to deliver the industry placement element of T-levels, but they are confused by the array of demands from various government departments.
Are T-level industry placements a bigger priority than apprenticeships, work placements, work experience etc? If everything’s a priority, then in practice, nothing is.
Finally, we need an overall vision for lifelong learning that sets T-levels in context. The previous decade probably saw too many skills strategies, and it has often felt like a “once in a generation” chance to make things right every few years. But now we have gone to the other extreme of having no strategy.
Strategies are not the answer to everything but, combined with local leadership, they can support a partnership approach with employers that allows prioritisation and coordination. As our report notes, we don’t know what all future skills requirements will be, but we do know the core basis and the need to build in flexibility.
T-levels are not a silver bullet and we shouldn’t oversell them; there is also a risk that they could follow previous efforts, such as Diplomas, into the lessons of history. But if we work together, set T-levels into the wider context, and work strategically with employers, there is a real opportunity, this time, for things to be different.
I’m delighted to be here to talk about ensuring quality – not just in T Levels, but across the range of regulated qualifications, including apprenticeship End Point Assessments.
Ofqual places a premium on high quality and assessment validity. Our statutory objectives include securing and maintaining qualification standards and promoting public confidence in them. We take this very seriously.
Ofqual is, of course, particularly in the public consciousness over the GCSE and A level exam season. But I am always keen to stress that our assessment and regulatory expertise is equally applicable to vocational and technical areas.
Whatever type of qualification – or indeed End Point Assessment – there is a judgement to be made about knowledge, skills and behaviours. How that assessment is designed, developed, and delivered has to be right – for the subject or skill area, and for those who will use and depend on the qualification result. The same principles of validity apply whether an academic or vocational assessment – but of course the assessment approaches vary.
We regulate on behalf of users, which is a broad church. It includes employers, higher education establishments and training providers. But of course it also includes learners; whether a student in school, an apprentice or an adult learner. We work to secure consistent and reliable assessments and to ensure fairness.
Fairness includes making sure assessments cover the expected content and are clear and error-free, that marking is completed on time and is of high quality, and that grade boundaries are set to fairly reflect the demand of the paper.
Fairness means designing qualifications so that they are accessible to the full range of students who will take them, and that the requirements are clear to all teachers and trainers. This includes making sure that students who need them have access to enlarged or Braille question papers, or a scribe, or other reasonable adjustments.
It means dealing with any malpractice that might give some students an unfair advantage over others. And it means taking account of any serious disruption or other events which might affect individual students’ performances on the day.
Ofqual is focused on making sure the qualification system is fair for everyone, so that they’re competing on a level playing field. This is important if students, parents, teachers, trainers, employers and universities are to have confidence in results.
When it comes to regulating the Technical Qualification that sits within T Levels, we will be working with the same seriousness and focus that we regulate GCSEs and A levels. To do this, we have taken the opportunity to introduce tailored rules that we have put in place for these new, high stakes qualifications that will operate in parallel with the Institute’s contract management process.
But regulating with the same seriousness and focus as General Qualifications doesn’t mean treating them the same – both our approach, and the design of the Technical Qualification – enables appropriate tailoring of the assessment to the subject content that has been set by employers, through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (‘the Institute’).
I want to stress this point because Ofqual is sometimes accused of “over-academising” assessments, and I want to put this misconception to bed. It’s important to recognise that Ofqual is not a content-setting body. In the case of T Levels, the subject content is – quite properly – being set by panels of employers, through the Institute. Ofqual’s role at this stage is to ensure that the content could lead to a qualification that will support valid outcomes. It is not to determine how academic the subject matter is.
We can – and do – encourage flexibility. So for Technical Qualifications there is flexibility in terms of the size of the core versus the occupational specialism. There is flexibility within the core, in terms of the weightings for the core exam and the core project.
And of course there is flexibility in the assessment methods for practical tasks. Validity requires the most appropriate form of assessment to be used for each Technical Qualification – we should expect to see a variety of approaches, much as we do in the apprenticeship End Point Assessments we regulate.
As you’d expect, we are working closely with the Institute to bring together our respective expertise and maximise the different levers available to our organisations. The Institute is running tenders to select awarding organisations to deliver Technical Qualifications. And the Institute will subsequently approve each qualification to ensure it meets employers’ needs and the requirements of the contract.
From an Ofqual perspective, we have consulted on and introduced Technical Qualification-specific rules, including issues like the number of assessments, timing, retakes, marking, recognition of prior learning and reviews of marking, moderation and appeals.
We are using materials from the tendering process to inform our recognition decisions. As you’d expect, we’re looking hard at each organisation to be sure that they have the capacity and capability to deliver the Technical Qualification, should they win the contract.
And we will be accrediting the Technical Qualifications, employing our assessment expertise to consider them from the perspective of our rules, which dock with the Institute’s contractual requirements.
Our rules are intended to help secure appropriate comparability, and to ensure that there is a consistent level of demand across all Technical Qualifications. Employers – through the Institute – will be setting the initial grade standards, and Ofqual will regulate to maintain those standards over time and across the cohort. Simply put, our aim here is to ensure that a candidate would get the same grade for a given performance, whenever and wherever the assessment is conducted.
This approach, where we consider the fitness for purpose of the awarding organisation as well as the lifecycle of the qualification they propose to deliver, is a tried and tested method. We have seen the importance of checking quality at the start, through accreditation and technical evaluation. And we have learned much from monitoring how the assessments run in practice. We are experienced in using the full range of our regulatory levers to keep things on track and have applied it across the range of qualifications we regulate.
Functional Skills qualifications
Reform offers a great opportunity to build in quality and for Functional Skills qualifications, I hope you’ve been following our regular updates on how the new English and maths qualifications are progressing through our technical evaluation process. As you’ll be aware, first teaching for the new versions is this September. Our focus is now on a safe transition from old to new and you should all be preparing for the removal of old versions.
We are keen to ensure that colleges and training providers have all the information needed to prepare, so we have published a range of resources and links on our website. We have encouraged awarding organisations to publish specifications and materials to help with preparation, in draft if necessary.
I do want to remind you that the last date for registering learners on the current qualifications is 31 August, and after that all new registrations must be on the reformed qualifications.
A regulated approach to apprenticeships EQA today
And we take equal interest in our regulation of apprenticeship End Point Assessments. Back in 2017, we first published a document setting out our approach, and the regulated approach to External Quality Assurance is now really well established.
At every stage we are focused on meeting the needs of employers and protecting the interests of apprentices. We have engaged proactively and reactively to ensure these outcomes. In May, we presented to the Institute’s Quality Assurance Committee what we have found from our External Quality Assurance activity thus far.
We set out our view that you need to build in quality and validity at the start. We see evidence that comparability between End Point Assessments (EPAs), developed and delivered by different End Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) against specific standards, can diverge.
Where assessment plan design allows for variances in approach there is a risk to consistency for that EPA. We’ve employed an ongoing programme of technical evaluation of EPA materials, working with sector experts to identify and mitigate these divergent approaches.
We can also see that the EPA market is maturing – though not necessarily in ways that we might have expected. Currently, fewer EPAOs have put fewer EPAs on our Register than we’d anticipated.
We are also seeing some EPAOs deciding some EPAs are not sustainable for them, and looking to withdraw from that part of the market. We are clear that apprentices should not be left high and dry. So where necessary we are intervening to protect the interest of learners by steering the pace or sequence of withdrawals. We will continue to monitor this maturing market closely in support of the Institute.
And EPAOs are responding to the changes and challenges of this new market.
Established awarding organisations are taking steps to strengthen their subject expertise so that they can deliver against assessment plans and meet the needs of specific sectors and industries.
And a variety of new organisations are looking to rise to the challenge of providing EPAs. Some of these are very niche organisations with evident depth of expertise and influence in their industry and sector. Some are finding the rigours of designing and applying robust assessment methodologies challenging.
They need to be able to demonstrate their capability and capacity to develop all the relevant required types of assessment as specified in the assessment plan. So we have seen them considering how they can develop this and we have supported their thinking and development.
Finally, we can see that our regulatory framework is having a wide influence over the quality of EPAs, across the apprenticeship system. We are seeing the strengths of our Conditions being applied by awarding organisations – wherever and whenever they provide an EPA, and not just where we are the EQA provider.
So, it is from that evidence base that we should look ahead.
The Institute has the statutory responsibility for overall quality assurance of the apprenticeship programme: that is something we support strongly.
But the EQA options and arrangements are complex. As previously mentioned, the Institute has asked us how we might work as part of an optimised system for EQA, and particularly how we might work with professional bodies and employers.
Our response reaffirms our view that the simplest, most streamlined and consistent delivery of quality assurance for all non-degree apprenticeships would be through Ofqual regulation. We have signalled that we are prepared to extend our role as EQA provider.
Where EPAOs are already recognised members of the regulated community, this can be done quite quickly. Where EQA is currently provided by professional bodies and other groups – we could (and would wish to) – work in partnership with those professional bodies. That way we can combine our assessment expertise with their sector and subject expertise; together we can be more than the sum of our parts.
We have also committed to further developing our EPAO fora, so that they better reflect the depth and breadth of EPAO delivery. We remain committed to sharing best practice.
And finally, we have signalled our intent to extend the reach of our expertise. We intend to introduce a ‘field force’ to look at how assessments are working in practice at the point of delivery.
We’ll be undertaking on-site monitoring of EPAs, to gather intelligence from employers and apprentices and to strengthen the evidence base for our risk-based, targeted interventions. We want employers and professional bodies to be confident that EPAs provide an accurate measure of occupational competence. And we want to ensure that the assessment is fair for apprentices.
This field force will also inform our views of the delivery of other types of qualifications. This is a natural extension of our proposals to strengthen controls over centre-based judgements and the moderation and verification of assessments.
This work started with our evaluation of how Direct Claims Status operates. You might recall that we recently consulted on changes to our rules, and I was pleased to see the warm reception our proposals received from AELP in particular. We’re working through the consultation responses now, and you can expect to hear more in September.
So you can see that the approach we adopt to regulation is geared completely towards securing high quality assessment products that command public confidence, protect the interests of learners and deliver what employers and others need from them.
The messages I’d like to leave you with are that:
We have increased our focus on vocational and technical qualifications, treating them with the same seriousness as GCSEs and A levels.
We recognise the need for flexible approaches to assessment – one size does not fit all and our priority is to ensure validity and fairness.
We are fully engaged in the government’s reforms and believe strongly that regulation plays a critically important role in assuring quality and fairness.
Thank you.Published 25 June 2019
You can look at that in two ways:
Young People: First of all it’s the people who are young now, so people who are coming up to 16. We need to make sure we’ve got the right courses and qualifications that they need.
Adult Learners: Then of course there’s also adults, who maybe need to up-skill or change their skillset.
T Levels for Young People
For younger people we have got T levels, which are coming in in 2020. The first three T levels will be in: Read more
New T Level branding unveiled to boost awareness of the new courses ahead of the 2020 rollout
Tuesday, 12 March 2019 – Hilton Leeds City, Leeds
Thursday, 21 March 2019 – etc.venues Victoria, London
The current T level proposals are part of a wider approach to the reform of technical education that it is vital all in our sector understand. Providers have recently been invited to express an interest to deliver the programme in 2021 to 2022 academic year, including the transition offer. Supported by DfE and in association with the Gatsby Foundation, AELP is running this half-day workshop that will enable those still unfamiliar with T levels to understand more about what they are and how they will work, and give those with more knowledge the chance to encourage planning ahead for how their introduction may impact on current provision and provide opportunities for new provision going forward.
T Levels are new courses coming in September 2020, which will follow GCSEs and will be equivalent to 3 A Levels. These 2-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work.
T Levels will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of around 3 months. They will provide the knowledge and experience needed to open the door into skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship.
Students will be able to take a T Level in the following subject areas: Read more
New measures announced to end the ‘snobbery’ in technical education and boost Britain’s productivity
Britain must drop its ‘snobby’ attitude to technical and vocational education or risk being left behind after Brexit, Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned in a keynote speech to business leaders today, Thursday 6 December.
As the government marks the one year anniversary of its modern Industrial Strategy which aims to boosts the nation’s productivity and put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution, the Education Secretary set out his plans to get more people into skilled jobs that command higher wages.
- A new generation of Higher Technical Qualifications – an alternative to a university degree to help more people get on in their careers and so employers can access the skills they need. These qualifications at “Level 4 and 5” – like Diplomas of Higher Education and Foundation Degrees sit in between A Levels and a degree in subjects like engineering and digital. The kind of training that helps someone step up from being a healthcare support worker to a nursing associate or a bricklayer to a construction site supervisor.
- Reforming the pupil destination measure – the information published in school and college performance tables about what higher study or training pupils go on to do after they leave – to create one measure that shows how many young people are doing higher training of any type. The new destination measure will show separately how many young people go on to study degrees, higher technical apprenticeships or Higher Technical Qualifications like a Higher National Diploma.
- Matching skills to jobs – new guidance and a package of support for Skills Advisory Panels – local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities, colleges and universities – to assess what skills are needed in their local area.
Many employers feel they don’t have a good understanding of T-Levels, according to City & Guilds.
With two years to go until their introduction, just 17% of UK employers feel that they have a good understanding of T-Levels, with almost half (49%) rating their understanding as poor. Additionally, 54% of education providers rate their understanding as either middling or poor.
T-Levels were announced in the 2017 Spring Budget, with the aim to replace 15,000 technical qualifications with 15 vocational routes, including construction, creative and design, digital, engineering and manufacturing, health, and science.
A key part of the T-Level programme is a mandatory 45-day work placement. Currently most employers (71%) and training providers (74%) offer work placements of one to two weeks for 16- to 19-year-olds. Only 8% of employers provide placements of the duration required for T-Levels, meaning a step change will be required to accommodate these placements in industry, the research stated.
In addition, there will need to be a significant increase in the number of work placement students employers take on, with an estimated 180,000 placements needed per year.
More encouragingly, most employers expressed support for this part of the new qualification, with almost three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed saying they are willing to play a greater role in helping students apply their learning in a workplace setting. However, both employers and training providers cited concerns around the implementation of the work placements.