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A new level, from A to T

Tony Blair may not be exactly everyone’s flavour of the month these days, but his attempt to put “education, education, education” at the top of the political agenda was manna from heaven for all us passionate believers. However, like some of his other enterprises, this has not been an easy ride, and successive governments have successively fiddled whilst the system has been close to catching fire.

The stated aim is always simplicity but existing systems and the need for continuity inevitably appear to frustrate the potential reforms and the outcome is, usually, just yet more entries in the scholastic dictionary. AS- levels and S- levels have bitten the dust, and now we are about to have T- levels. At least, the chancellor mentioned them in the Autumn Budget, so they do look firmly on the cards.

T-levels are intended to cover all the technical skills required to embark on careers as diverse as beauty and construction with each course requiring 900 hours of teaching each year, 50% more hours than those given to academic students. Further Education colleges will be the main providers, but this also will cause a problem due to the capital investment needed to make them fit for purpose, in addition to the £500 million per annum that the government has earmarked for running this scheme.

The radical decision to reduce 13,000 technical qualifications to 15  is intended, as the government describes, “to be the biggest overhaul of post-school education in 70 years”. Unsurprisingly, this is no easy task, and the first two routes have already been delayed from 2019 to 2020 with the remainder, hopefully, still on course for 2022.

There remain serious concerns about even this timing of their implementation and the general secretary of the Association of Schools and Colleges voiced his fears, stating “we are concerned that there is a lack of joined-up thinking from the government over technical education”. From a different angle Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers welcomed the development but said, it is essential that “the curriculum and qualifications are world leading and stand the test of time”, another obvious cause for delay.

This desire to teach and administer technical courses so that they are on an equal footing with academic work is admirable and necessary if we are to catch up, in this field, with countries such as Germany and the United States. However, steering this truck is going to require a mammoth co-ordinated effort from both government, educational bodies and awarding organisations.

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