NEWS: New Westminster T- level conference dates announced

The Westminster education forum has just announced details of their next conference in the T- level series here with an overview below. Altains’s report and analysis of the previous event can be read here.

Implementing the T-Level programme – content, regulation and assessment

Morning, Monday, 29th April 2019

This timely seminar will examine the next steps for the implementation of the T-Level programme with the Education and Childcare, Digital, and Construction T-Levels due to be taught from 2020 for the first time.

Delegates will discuss the key implementation challenges, looking at the design of the curricula with the expected publication by the Institute for Apprenticeships of the final content of the first three subjects expected later in the autumn.

The conference will be an opportunity to discuss key themes emerging from Ofqual’s recently published final consultation on their regulatory approach to the new qualifications – and follows the initial consultation which confirmed that the regulator will allow students to take exams more than once throughout the year, allowing them to resit without delay.

The meeting will also consider the assessment and regulation format more widely, including the potential impact of moving to a single awarding body per qualification as the Department for Education launches a competition inviting bids to win the right to develop, deliver and award the first three qualifications – alongside concerns surrounding the potential complexity of the new grading system and the potential impact of a further set of exams in the summer period.

We expect discussion on the compulsory work placement element of the T-Level, including issues of employer engagement, with a recent DfE report finding evidence of tension between the willingness and capability of employers to offer T-Level industry placements alongside already existing apprenticeships, and financial concerns for some employers

Further sessions assess how to prepare the teaching workforce for delivery alongside the teaching of other qualifications, and whether changes are needed to initial teacher training in preparation for T-Levels – as well as what is needed to ensure that T-Levels deliver on their objective parity of esteem with A-Levels.






T-levels: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last week Altain joined around 150 delegates at a Westminster forum conference in London to discuss next steps for T-levels with the added benefit of Lord Baker in the chair for part of the session. While there is universal support for the principle of the T-levels programme views on the approach varied markedly.

For those unable to make it we have captured some of the critical points debated during the session below:

The Good

In addition to in principle support for the programme speakers and delegates were positive about the following:

  • Work placement: A feature that has researched very well with students and their parents and hence a potential point of differentiation versus alternatives. However, the challenge of delivering on the promise is substantial, requiring the support of businesses including SMEs, not just large employers.
  • Routes and Pathways: This presentation of opportunities recognizes the difference in requirements of young people transitioning to the workplace from adult education and offers a sound basis for representing Technical education as an alternative to the traditional A level/University route.
  • Funding: A promise of £500m pa once T- levels are entirely on stream is popular with colleges

The Bad

Hurdles to be overcome discussed included:

  • Tight time frames: Reform of high stakes qualifications is a serious endeavor and a sense that there is a need for prioritization and less of a moving feast on crucial aspects such as assessment.
  • CEIAG and a Demand side gap: The conversation was heavily skewed to supply side considerations. Attracting students of the right caliber is essential, and this is made more challenging by an under-resourced ‘Careers strategy’ and academic bias in school’s curriculum with limited opportunities for students to experience technical options. Addressing these issues will benefit from more concerted demand side action and integration of perspectives of a broader range of employers as well as students and their parents.
  • Looking forward as well as learning from the past: As Lord Baker reminded us the ‘Time-honored tradition’ is to lead with reform of the qualification changing the rest of the system to fit. Arguably a leading contributory factor to lack of success most recently with the 14 to 19 Diploma. Hence a need for fresh thinking as well as learning from the past.

The Ugly

Arguably less attractive aspects of the current system that prompted proposed policy changes included:

  • Sainsbury review: Key amongst the concerns expressed about the existing situation was the complex qualifications landscape and potential for a ‘race to the bottom.’
  • ‘Single provider’: The above concerns precipitated a proposed change from a market-based model to a single contract for each pathway. A move that concerns many in the awarding sector and remains contested
  • Untidy Institutional arrangements: An observation that there is potential for misaligned activities given the range of institutions required to pull together for the success of T levels – prompting the suggestion by Lord Baker of the need for an honest broker.

A Market Dimension 

It is worth reiterating that there is good support for the principles behind T levels however in the light of prior experiences it is equally valid for some to question if T levels might struggle to deliver on goals and aspirations. A key point in T-levels favour is that unlike its predecessors there is a stronger sense of latent market demand for alternatives due to skills gaps, Brexit and arguably an oversupply of graduates.

However, this also begs the question about what needs to be done to meet the needs of the here and now while T-levels build capacity. This immediate need gives credence to suggestions for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Your view?

Are you supportive of the principle of T levels? How pivotal is work placement? What do you see as the main opportunities and threats? Please share your thoughts below.


The exams market and ‘the single provider’ debate

One of the more controversial recommendations for the new T levels qualifications is that each should be provided by a single organization. This would be a major change from how qualifications post age 14 are administered currently.

This is not a new idea and below we reflect on some of the main arguments made over the years

Interestingly it also runs counter to the recommendations of a separate review on by Frontier Economics in July last year on behalf of the DfE

A market for qualifications

It can strike people as odd that there is a market in exams such that schools and colleges can choose from a range of providers., between three and five in the case of A levels and GCSEs and around 120 for vocational qualifications. It is important to note however that these organizations need to be licensed by the regulator

The case for and against

The case for competition is that this leads to better quality of specification design, customer service and innovation. This in turn means that the quality of what is taught in schools will improve as schools and colleges choose the best on offer.

The argument against is most often centered on the potential for ‘a race to the bottom’ s schools choose easier boards

Again it is important to note the role of the regulator in licensing providers and as part of this keeping a close eye on awards to ensure comparability between boards

Vocational qualifications and consumer choice, a different argument

The ‘race to the bottom’ argument for T levels can be similarly rebutted

However, perhaps more compelling is the argument that the vast array of qualifications and providers impacts negatively on student’s choices

However, Frontier economics were commissioned to look specifically at vocational qualifications and were clear that the risks of a single provider outweighed those of continuation of the current model. Notably operational risks of eggs in one basket and the loss of an opportunity to revert as industry expertise is lost

Altain’s perspective has historically been that there are bigger concerns for the education system to address and that a change from a multiple board approach risks being a distraction.

However, we can see that consumer choice in vocational is an issue that will repay further thought ideally leading to a solution that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Your views?

Which approach is best, single or multiple provider? How significant is the economists view? Can we  meet students’ needs for clarity of choice without resorting to the single provider model?