Janet King: Reflecting on two years of T Levels
This article was originally published by Nursery World on 22 September 2023.
With the first two cohorts of students now having completed the T Level in Education and Early Years, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess the qualification’s impact on the sector.
If we look at the data, we can see the number of students that took the T Level this year more than doubled - rising from 462 in 2021-22 to 989 in 2022-23.
This shows awareness of this new qualification is growing, and more and more parents and students are seeing it as an excellent progression route into employment or continuing in education.
The Education and Early Years T Level was also the best performing, with more students achieving a distinction or above than in any other subject. According to government figures, 34.5% of students gained a distinction or a starred distinction.
This tells me that the students are indeed rising to the challenge posed by this new, professionally rigorous qualification and are succeeding as pioneers in technical education in the 21st century.
Where I think the sector should be congratulated is its contribution to the qualification’s content, informing what employers need from their future workforce, and in opening its doors to work placements which are often held up as the highlight of the T Level.
An Early Years Professional I spoke with said: “T Levels have the capability to be a game changer for the Early Years. I see the T Level as almost being the best balance between an apprenticeship and structured learning because students get the opportunity to have the support to work on their knowledge and put it into practice with their work placements.
They went on to add: “The assessment process is a particular strength because of the input from people in the industry to the assessment materials we can be sure that what is offered to students has the relevance needed for the workplace. I also love being part of the board and having a direct input in the assessment and course content.”
This is backed up by the students themselves. One Education and Early Years T Level student, Ellie Scadden, who completed the qualification in the summer, told NCFE: “Placement has definitely been my main highlight from this course.
“I have attended three different placements, which have allowed me to work closely with practitioners to extend my own learning and experiences. Placement providers and staff make you feel very welcome, and they fully support you with how to meet the needs of their children.
“As you spend large amounts of time in the setting, you effectively become one of the staff members, and receive amazing feedback and support with your work. Placement has been an amazing learning experience and has helped me decide what I would like to do with my future.”
Overall, staff delivering the qualification feel confident that it will raise the status of technical vocational education and improve practical competence. Amidst the shadow of recruitment and retention challenges, it is crucial to celebrate these successes.
There is still work to be done, of course, to raise awareness of not only T Levels, but technical and vocational education as whole. We need to do more to bring educational providers, careers advisers, parents, and young people along on this journey with us.
This is a huge and complex challenge, but for the sake of our students, and the beneficiaries within the workforce, we need to embrace innovative new training routes like the T Level. There’s little doubt that early years is facing a crisis in terms of both recruitment and retention, and improving pathways into and through the sector is a crucial part of this.
If we look at data from The Skills Imperative 2035: Occupational Outlook – Long run employment prospects for the UK for example, the demand for early education and childcare practitioners is set to grow by an incredible 28% from 2021 to 2035 – that's an increase of almost 24,000.
From taking a step back to exploring next steps. I want to see the Education and Early Years T Level continue to evolve and for more students to complete the qualification and be able to impact the sector’s workforce needs – closing existing skills gaps and answering increasing demand over the next decade.
The T Level is only one part of a much larger picture, but we’re already seeing the impact it's making today and the potential it has to make a big difference to our sector’s future.
We catch up with Abigail Tighe, one of the first students in England to undertake a T Level, to learn how the course prepared her for study at the University of Worcester.
Our Sector Manager for Education and Childcare, Janet King, explores five children’s books and their associated playtime activities that can engage children and families with the natural world around them.
Abbigail Parkin of Scarborough Sixth Form College is currently studying for an Education and Early Years T Level. We caught up with her to see how the T Level is preparing her for higher education and beyond.