Our final calling point in the series is the Government’s new initiative to provide top-class vocational education, in the form of the new Technical Levels.

What are they?

In a year from now, the first cohort of students will be starting out on the new T level qualification. T levels are a Level 3 qualification that will be the technical (or vocational) equivalent of A levels. They are being rolled out slowly; only three of the eventual 25 courses will be available for the 2020/21 academic year in 50 specially selected schools and colleges across England. The Government hopes that in time they will combine classroom and on-the-job learning to “provide the knowledge and experience needed to open the door into skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship.”

The overall vision is that students will broadly have three post-16 choices:

  • A levels, for those who want to stay in academic education
  • an apprenticeship, for people who have a specific career aim in mind and want to learn on the job
  • and T levels, which sit somewhere in the middle.


How do they work?

A T level – unlike A levels, you will not take more than one – will take you two years to complete. They are designed to be equivalent to three A levels and will include:

  • A technical qualification, requiring course-specific skills and knowledge as well as core theory and concepts of the industry route.
  • An industry placement with an employer of at least 45 days: this can be all in one go, or e.g. one day a week (as a comparison, an apprenticeship is normally 80% on-the-job learning).
  • A basic level of English and maths, if you haven’t already achieved this in your GCSEs.

The qualifications are certified by a number of Government-approved bodies, and the curricula are being developed alongside employers to make sure T levels are relevant to the workplace.


What can I study?

The plan is that by 2023 you will be able to choose to study a T level in any of 11 technical routes. These are general groupings of courses that relate to a certain industry, such as Health & Science, Construction and Digital.

The Government is introducing T levels over the course of the next four years. In September 2020, only three courses will be available:

  • Education and childcare (Education and Childcare route)
  • Design, surveying and planning (Construction route)
  • Digital production, design and development (Digital route)

By 2023 there will be 25 different courses for students to choose from.


How will I be assessed?

As each course is being developed alongside employers, we’re still not sure what the overall assessments will look like, and there is likely to be some variation between courses. However, the Government has certified that the main part of the T level (known as the Technical Qualification, or TQ) will be assessed in two different components:

  • A core component, relating to the underpinning knowledge and skills of the course, which will be assessed partly with a project.
  • A specialised component concerned with the occupation-specific competences and theory. There will usually only be one of these components, but there could be more.

You may be required to sit a maximum of two assessments per component per year.

In terms of grading, your overall qualification will receive a grade of Pass, Merit, Distinction or Distinction*. You will also receive:

  • A grade between E and A* for your core component.
  • A grade between Pass, Merit and Distinction for each specialised component.

NB Although your overall grade is calculated from your scores in the core and specialised components, you must also have completed an industry placement and achieved a minimum level of English and maths to pass the T level.


What are they worth?

It’s hard to predict how T levels will be received by universities and employers. However, since they are being developed with input from businesses involved in the relevant industries, if you study a T level you should come out the other side with a strongly developed set of industry-relevant skills and knowledge, standing you in good stead to find a job in an area linked to your course.

As for continuing into Higher Education, the classroom-based element of your learning should provide evidence to universities that you are capable of academic study. However, the same could be said of BTECs, but these are still perceived to be less prestigious than A levels by many HE institutions. Several renowned universities such as Imperial and University College London are not sure if they will properly prepare students for the academic side of university study. Others, like Glasgow, Leeds and Sheffield, have said that they will consider applicants presenting T levels on a case-by-case basis. Most universities, however, have yet to comment. Having said this, UCAS have assigned the top T level grade the same number of tariff points (168) as three A*s at A level.


A note on other vocational qualifications

T levels have been created in response to a fairly confusing array of vocational qualifications and shortage of young people taking them. Students can currently choose from a range of over 1,000 vocational courses, including Cambridge Technicals, BTECs and the old-style BTECs (which are also still available)! Earlier this year, the Government started a review on Level 3 qualifications – many people believe this might lead to other technical qualifications losing funding, paving the way for T levels to become the main (if not only) option.



Overall, the T level could be an exciting opportunity for those looking for a mixture of classroom and workplace learning.  However, there will likely still be creases which need to be ironed out when the first courses start this time next year.