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T Levels: Head teachers in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Faversham divided over new sixth form qualifications

Head teachers are divided on the impact a major shake-up to sixth form education will have on local students.

T-levels are new two-year courses being rolled out from September 2020, designed to boost the quality of courses available to young people after GCSEs.

The Department for Education is currently consulting on whether public funding for vocational courses which “overlap” with T-levels will be withdrawn on a phased basis from schools until 2021.

T-levels are being introduced from September 2020. Stock image
T-levels are being introduced from September 2020. Stock image

This could include BTecs - specialist hands-on, work-related qualifications - and the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP), a post-16 route offering students an academic course alongside a career-specific programme.

Instead, there would be an emphasis on sixth form colleges providing T-levels - described as the “technical equivalent to A-levels”.

East Kent College Group principal Graham Razey is among those who welcome the changes.

The EKC group - with five institutions, including Canterbury College - has been selected to deliver the second wave of the T-level roll-out. From 2021, it will be offering T-level routes in digital, construction, education and childcare, and health and science.

East Kent College and Canterbury College principal Graham Razey
East Kent College and Canterbury College principal Graham Razey

Mr Razey said: “It’s critical we are helping our communities, and the businesses within them, develop the skills they need to grow and prosper.

“These new qualifications will unlock the potential of many young people throughout East Kent and beyond, who may otherwise not have taken a pathway which was right for them.”

Herne Bay High School head Jon Boyes says he does not feel the plans will majorly impact his college, which primarily offers A-levels alongside some vocational programmes in performing arts and sport.

“Whenever funding changes are introduced, schools need to be mindful of the impact of their ability to deliver the right programmes for their students,” he said.

“We are also looking at any alternative level 3 programmes that we could provide, should funding for BTec qualification at post-16 cease.”

Herne Bay High principal Jon Boyes
Herne Bay High principal Jon Boyes

But others fear the shake-up could have a negative effect on non-selective schools and those that have shifted to an International Baccalaureate programme of study.

Dr Rowland Speller, head teacher at The Abbey School in Faversham, says the implications of the proposal would be “quite negative” and could restrict social mobility.

“We would no longer be able to offer the IBCP for our students, and it is a major concern that the excellent work we have done could be lost because of the disincentivisation to offer qualifications other than A-levels or T-levels,” he said.

'The proposals may undermine social mobility, because they will disproportionately damage high schools' - Dr Rowland Speller

He says BTec and IB courses have traditionally formed a “unique selling point” for the school’s relatively small sixth form - offering alternatives to other local post-16 options.

He says the proposals in the current Department for Education review would put this at risk.

“The proposals may undermine social mobility, because they will disproportionately damage high schools,” he added. “The loss of sixth form in these areas will affect teacher and student recruitment.

The Abbey School, Faversham. Pic: Google Street View (14295627)
The Abbey School, Faversham. Pic: Google Street View (14295627)

“While selective schools will remain 11 to 18 with sixth forms studying A-levels, it is possible that non-selective schools could become 11 to 16.”

Dr Speller says transitioning to the new T-levels would not be a simple task, given the large amount of work experience required by the courses.

“In many areas around Kent there just isn’t the same level and quality of work experience opportunities available than there might be for schools in different areas of the country,” he said.

T-levels explained

Currently, people leaving school at 16 have a wide variety of options.

For those keen to go down a traditional academic route, studying subjects such as geography or English literature, the path is relatively clear-cut: A-levels offer a generally trusted and well-regarded option.

But for those intending to train for vocations, such as hairdressing or plumbing, the way forward can be less obvious.

From NVQs, Btecs and TechBacs to Cambridge Technicals, traineeships and supported internships, the range is wide - with multiple qualifications often available in the same subject areas.

A student wanting to study an engineering qualification after GCSE, for example, faces choosing from an excess of 200 different options.

The government’s Department for Education (DfE) says the current choice of more than 12,000 qualifications - many of which it brands “poor quality” - is leaving young people and employers confused about which will yield the skills they need.

In an effort to streamline and improve the quality of post-16 options, the DfE is introducing T-levels - high-quality technical courses, said to be equivalent to the three A-levels.

T-levels aim to prepare students for their chosen profession, through a mixture of classroom learning and “on-the-job” experience, with industry placements of at least 315 hours.

They will be available in 25 different subject areas - ranging from traditional vocational areas such as construction, and hair, beauty and aesthetics, to accountancy, education, media, and even science.

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

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