T Levels: The Arrival of Vocational Education?

The UK Government announced the launch, in September 2020, of the latest attempt by the education authorities to broaden the national curriculum to meet the needs of business and the changing economy. The T Level courses, each lasting two years, 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: The Arrival of Vocational Education?
By Lyn Soppelsa
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‘T’ (for technical) Levels are new courses - equivalent to 3 A Levels, which will be offered progressively in Sixth Forms and Colleges in England from September 2020. The UK Government intends that T Levels will become one of the main choice for students after GCSE, alongside apprenticeships, for students who wish to learn a specific occupation ‘on the job’, and ‘A’ levels for students who wish to continue an academic education. 

The new qualification complements the current BTEC qualification - offered by a number of UAE schools – which includes both Business and Technology subject options but does not incorporate industry placement on a compulsory basis.

‘T’ Levels will be based on the same standards as apprenticeships, designed by employers and approved by the UK's Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. More than 200 businesses, including Fujitsu and Skanska, have been involved in the design of the courses. Groups of employers will define the skills and requirements for each T Level course by participating in T Level panels, ensuring that students taking T Levels will develop the technical knowledge and skills required by employers in that industry.

T Levels will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days). The total time required to obtain a T Level is expected to be around 1,800 hours over the two years, including the industry placement.

The courses will be composed of 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,
  • an industry placement with an employer,
  • a minimum standard in Maths and English if students have not already achieved them.

Students who complete their T Level will receive an overall grade of pass, merit, distinction or distinction*.  UCAS tariff points will be allocated to the overall T Level grade – ensuring that students may continue on to university study if they choose to do so.

UK curriculum schools in the UAE fully anticipate that this additional pathway for students will become available and have welcomed its introduction.

Brendon Fulton, Executive Principal at Taaleem’s Dubai British Schools said

“In relation to the new T Level qualification, Dubai British School is excited about the opportunity to partner with local industry, the KHDA and ADEK to introduce this important new technical qualification. Dubai British School Jumeirah Park has already undertaken a case study, feasibility review to pilot the new T Level award in the UAE”.

Commenting on the introduction of ‘T’ Levels, Simon O’Connor, Principal of KHDA Outstanding-rated GEMS Jumeirah College stated

“The new T Level qualification certainly answers the question regarding a powerhouse qualification for less academic routes for our students which has been asked for so long.

And Teresa Woulfe, Head of Secondary at ADEK Outstanding-rated The British School of Al Khubairat, commented

“T Levels will enhance the educational experience for many students allowing them the ability to study according to their academic profile and their desired pathway. Every single BTEC student at the British School of Al Khubairat has graduated to attend their university of choice – technical qualifications are proven, important and valuable.  The new British T Level qualification promises a new, alternative technical qualification for students in the UAE, one that is closely aligned to the needs of business and industry.

The first T Levels to be introduced in September 2020 are:

  • Design, surveying and planning (construction),
  • Digital production, design and development, 
  • Education.

In September 2021 further subjects will be added including:

  • Building services engineering,
  • Digital business services,
  • Digital support and services,
  • Health,
  • Healthcare science,
  • Onsite construction,
  • Science.

In September 2022, a further eight subjects will be added:

  • Accountancy,
  • Design and development,
  • Financial,
  • Human resources,
  • Legal,
  • Maintenance, installation and repair,
  • Management and administration,
  • Manufacturing, processing and control.

The final set of currently planned subjects, bringing the total to 25, will be introduced in September 2023 and include:

  • Agriculture, land management and production,
  • Animal care and management,
  • Catering,
  • Craft and design,
  • Cultural heritage and visitor attractions,
  • Hair, beauty and aesthetics,
  • Media, broadcast and production.

Further subjects will potentially be added as industry and business feedback identifies the requirement.

At this stage, it is not clear when T Levels will be introduced internationally, and for the UAE, there will inevitably be some limitations, based on student demand and the practical aspects related to the 45 day industry placement, although the KHDA’s Rahhal initiative should at least support students in Dubai.

Details can be found at the UK Government website here.  Read our curriculum guide here.

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