HEPI Policy Note 1, Misunderstanding Technical and Professional Education: Six Category Mistakes, considers six areas:
- Parity of esteem: The new T-Levels are supposed to give technical education the same status as academic education. But they have a different purpose and structure to A-Levels. So they will succeed only if they provide progression to employment or further learning and are demanded by employers.
- Public understanding: GCSEs and A-Levels enjoy high public understanding. In contrast, it is unclear if T-Levels are umbrella qualifications for a range of occupations or aimed at specific occupations. The ‘Creative and Design’ route, for example, includes ‘art producer, graphic designer, audio-visual technician, journalist, product/clothing designer, upholsterer, tailor, furniture maker’. It is unlikely one qualification could cover all this.
- Naming: A-Levels are ‘Advanced’. But the ‘T-Level’ conflates a purpose (‘technical’) with the scale of the challenge (Level). If T-Levels are to be Level 3 qualifications (like A-Levels), then what term is to be used for Level 2 technical and professional qualifications? An intuitive naming convention for the new routes is essential to public understanding.
- Tripartitism… : Splitting qualifications into distinct technical and academic pathways leaves ‘Applied General’ qualifications, like BTECs, roaming free. Re-categorising them as ‘academic’ qualifications, as has been suggested, would ensure confusion among learners and employers.
- …or Bipartism? It is said the new routes will be delivered in FE colleges, full-time or as part of an apprenticeship. But, if they are to have the desired currency and reputation, many school sixth-forms could cease to be viable. However, if schools continue to deliver Applied General qualifications such as BTECs, colleges may struggle.
- Careers education: T-Levels are to be promoted as a post-GCSE option. Yet young students will have had no prior exposure to the 15 pathways. It will be difficult for a STEM-orientated GCSE student, for example, to choose confidently between the ‘Engineering and Manufacturing’ pathway and the ‘Transport and Logistics’ pathway without top-notch careers education.