Government needs to act urgently to address ‘disappointing’ T-level uptake

The Government needs to act urgently to address the “disappointing” number of students starting T-levels, the Association of Colleges has warned.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), is calling on the Government to look at how its flagship technical qualifications will be promoted, following the announcement of major reforms to post-16 education.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Mr Hughes said the numbers starting T-levels – which were launched in September 2020 and are still being rolled out in England – were “falling short” of the Government’s ambitions.

He added: “A large part of this is that many potential T-level students did not achieve good GCSEs and are therefore not ready.”

In October, the Prime Minister announced plans to introduce the Advanced British Standard (ABS) – a new single post-16 qualification which will eventually replace A-levels and T-levels when fully implemented.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said previously that T-levels will continue to roll out as they will “provide the technical options” for the ABS, which is expected to take a decade to deliver in full.

Mr Hughes said the AoC would welcome an “open discussion” about how T-levels will be promoted to parents, students and employers in light of the ABS.

In the open letter to the Education Secretary, Mr Hughes warned: “Despite the strong recruitment of young people, the numbers starting T-levels is disappointing and falling short of your ambitions and plans.”

He called for a clearer picture of how the shortfall looks nationally and what the Government’s plans are to adjust the rollout of T-levels.

Mr Hughes added that the AoC’s “deep concern” about the defunding of existing qualifications before T-levels are established has “heightened”.

The DfE is planning to remove funding for a number of post-16 qualifications that “overlap” with T-levels in England – which are considered to be broadly equivalent to three A-levels.

A recent report by the Protect Student Choice campaign, a coalition of education and employer groups, warned that tens of thousands of sixth-form students could be left without a suitable study programme if proposals to withdraw funding for a number of BTecs go ahead.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are backing colleges to deliver T-levels with significant support, including boosting the student funding rate, providing over £450 million to upgrade buildings and equipment and £240 million so they can offer high quality industry placements.

“We are pressing ahead with our reforms to qualifications including continuing to roll out T-levels so more young people gain the skills they need to progress into great jobs.”