The first three so-called T-levels are set to be rolled out from 2020, one of which is in Construction; however, gaining recognition, increasing the number of apprenticeships available and ensuring the new qualifications equal A-levels in quality could spell trouble.
Education Secretary Justine Greening has announced the first three T levels in Digital, Construction, and Education and Childcare. Encouragingly, an SME construction leader, Julian Weightman, has been appointed Chair on one of the Technical Education Panels.
Education Secretary Justine Greening said, “As we prepare to leave the EU, it is more important than ever that we create an outstanding further education and skills system, giving all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential and deliver a better future for our country.”
The content of T levels will be developed by newly appointed panels comprising industry professionals and employers – including Julian Weightman of Boardercraft Group. Weightman has 18 years’ experience in the building sector and runs a small building firm in Hexham. Over the past two years, he has chaired the bricklayer and plasterer apprenticeship trailblazer group.
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said, “I am delighted that FMB Board member Julian Weightman has been announced as the Chair of the Department for Education’s Technical Education Panel. Construction SMEs train two-thirds of all apprentices and make up 98% of the construction industry so it’s vital that the new T-Levels work for small builders.”
The first of the new qualifications, with content developed industry professionals from companies including Rolls Royce, Fuijitsu and EDF, will be taught from 2020, with the full set of T levels introduced by 2022.
Lord David Sainsbury, chairman of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, whose report led to the reforms, said, “I am delighted the government is pressing ahead with these essential reforms to technical education. T levels will increase the life-chances of many thousands of young people, while at the same time helping to ensure British industry remains competitive.
“Now that the government has issued its Action Plan it is essential that everyone involved starts preparing for the introduction of T levels. Government, the education sector, industry, LEPs and Combined Authorities now need to put in the necessary resources and effort, and not wait until the last moment before taking the necessary action.”
First announced in 2016 and backed by £500 million every year in additional funding, the qualifications give young people the option to study a technical qualification at level 3 – equivalent to A levels. However, it may be a long time before the new qualifications enjoy the same respect as traditional academia in the eyes of the public.
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said, “The new T Levels will need to fight hard to gain recognition and to be valued, but this announcement is a good first step. I look forward to working with the government on developing the pathways from Level 2 through Levels 3, 4 and 5 which are needed for success.”
Neil Carberry, CBI Managing Director for People policy, added, “Businesses will be encouraged by the positive progress on the introduction of T levels, though there is still much for companies and the government to address together. It’s important that these new technical routes are woven into the wider education system from the start, to ensure they are respected and are seen to have the same quality as A Levels.”
The T levels will include a substantial work placement; however, this also poses a challenge in the construction sector where apprenticeships can be hard to come by.
“One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks for the T-Level initiative will be the required amount of work experience for each young person,” said Berry. “T-levels will rely on all on students being able to complete three months’ work experience with an employer in their second year. Given that CITB statistics show the number of young people in construction-related further education far outweighs the number of apprenticeship places being offered by employers we need to find a solution to this problem.
“We owe it to young people to ensure we can deliver on what we promise so this needs to be properly thought through. It’s also important that construction T-Levels dovetail with the new construction apprenticeships developed via the trailblazer process. A merger of the Department for Education’s Technical Panel with the Institute for Apprenticeships’ Construction Panel would assist this process.”
Meanwhile, the National Federation of Builders (NFB) has opined that more could be done to include SMEs in the process, describing the government’s approach as “not exactly SME-friendly”.
Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said, “With SMEs accounting for 98% of construction companies, the panel should better reflect the make-up of the industry.”
Construction SMEs train and retain two-thirds of all industry workers. For every £1 invested with an SME, 90p remains locally to hire local workers, train local apprentices and grow the local economy.
The government has a track record of devising policies that do not exploit the full potential of SMEs, only to eventually retrofit those policies to include SMEs. SME construction firms are hoping that more will be done to include SMEs in designing the new T level from the outset.