What did the party conferences teach us about T Levels? | NCFE

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What did the party conferences teach us about T Levels?

Over the past few weeks, representatives from across NCFE attended both the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences.

As well as championing the broader role of vocational and technical education, we also hosted two panel discussions around T Levels to debate how we can continually improve the qualification to ensure it’s fit for purpose and supports students’ progression into higher education, apprenticeships and employment.

To mark the end of National T Level Week, here’s our summary of some of the important themes relating to the programme that emerged from across the two conferences.

Cross-party support

During a discussion in the main Conservative Party conference area at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, the new Secretary of State for Education, Kit Malthouse MP, used the opportunity to underline his commitment to T Levels as part of a broader plan.

A week earlier, Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Skills and Further Education, spoke at our fringe event during the Labour Party Conference about his own commitment to retaining and improving T Levels in the future. He also said that Labour would stop the defunding of other qualifications by ceasing the review at Level 3 and under.

Many in the sector will still remember when Diplomas and GNVQs were withdrawn by incoming governments. This cross-party backing of T Levels is certainly welcome and will ensure the qualification can continue to grow and evolve no matter what the political future holds.

Access to work placements

At both our events, David Hughes, Chief Executive at the Association of Colleges, spoke about how we can make T Levels more flexible for students.

He was keen to address the risk of a “postcode lottery” when it comes to the work placement element of T Levels and ensure that all students, no matter where in the country they’re based, have access to relevant and fulfilling opportunities.

As part of this, David was keen to express the need to fully support employers in taking on this critical component of the qualification.

Profile of technical education

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Andrea Jenkyns MP, the Minister for Skills, stated her desire to increase the profile and availability of high-quality technical education. During a fringe event, Jenkyns also claimed that “the current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies than the apprentices shaping construction.”

A common theme across a number of events at the Conservative Party Conference was skills and the interplay between Further and Higher Education. A range of organisations, such as the Education Policy Institute, Times Education Commission, Centre for Social Justice, and Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, all discussed the options available to policymakers.

Speaking at our own panel session, Jonathan Simons, Partner at Public First, weighed into the debate by saying that we should “stop worrying overly about parity of esteem.” He went on to add that T Levels have “a place in the architecture… and that should be celebrated without trying to compare with other things.”

A panel of speakers sat behind a table at a conference

A panel of speakers at the Labour Party Conference. L-R: David Gallagher, NCFE; Holly Old, Current T Level learner, Natalie Perera, Education Policy Institute; Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Skills and Further Education; and David Hughes, AoC.

Lifelong learning

Bringing the conversation back to focus on students, David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE, spoke at the Conservative Party Conference about the need to create a “system that understands employers' needs, but is also grounded by the starting point of learners.”

A large focus of T Levels is preparing students to embark on their careers, but the focus on employment outcomes should not neglect the importance of lifelong learning. David went on to talk about the need to ensure that learners’ educational choices are not made “too narrow too soon,” in “a world which is changing faster than ever.”

He pointed out that, “it’s all about the disciplines and critical essential skills that come with work experience. Work experience placements are crucial in supporting disadvantaged learners to build their social capital. We should also be looking at educating learners to work anywhere in the world, not just training them for their local labour market. Let’s think big, creatively, and open up those opportunities.”

He then concluded by saying “the labour market will continue to change, and we need to equip people for a lifetime, not just that first job.”

The importance of work placements to lifelong learning was echoed by Holly Old, a current Health T Level student invited to take part in the Labour Party Conference discussion by NCFE. Holly explained how, through her T Level, she’d learned workplace skills that she couldn’t have developed elsewhere.

Moving forwards with certainty

It was great to see further education taking such a prominent stage given everything that is currently going on in politics and the world. We’re delighted to see our own commitment to T Levels echoed by both political parties.  

In knowing that T Levels are backed by both the Conservatives and Labour, it enables the sector to move forward with certainty as the qualification continues to be developed and improved. Importantly, it also gives students, parents, providers, and employers the confidence that T Levels are here to stay.

David Gallagher acknowledged that there are lessons to be learnt from the T Level journey so far, whilst reinforcing NCFE’s ongoing commitment, “As an educational charity, we have a deep interest in ensuring that opportunities, experiences, and outcomes for learners help to deliver a Further and Technical Education system that creates a fairer, more inclusive society. I believe that T Levels have a massive part to play in this.

“We’re as committed to T Levels now as when we started, and we want to see them continue to go from strength to strength for years to come. That’s why it’s important to take this moment to reflect on what’s worked and, importantly, what can be improved.

“There are three areas that are crucial to the success of T Levels. Investment in infrastructure, both in terms of facilities and educators, a creative and flexible approach to work placements, and employer-backed, sector-specific campaigns that speak to the whole range of educational options.

“If we want to make T Level programmes successful, accessible to all, and a nationally recognised alternative to A Levels, there needs to be sustained investment in them politically, financially, and socially. All our focus now is on ensuring the qualification goes from strength to strength.”

To learn more about T Levels, you can visit our dedicated web pages.

There are three areas that are crucial to the success of T Levels. Investment in infrastructure, both in terms of facilities and educators, a creative and flexible approach to work placements, and employer-backed, sector-specific campaigns that speak to the whole range of educational options.

David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE
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