T-levels, the Level Three technical equivalent to A levels, are presented as the ‘technical gold standard’ by the government. Baroness Barron told the Lords on Tuesday that ‘T-levels will represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform technical education in this country.’
Lord Willets, former minister for Universities and Science (2010-2014), hoped T-levels would be a success. However, the Tory peer said there were ‘some significant doubts about how well they will do.’
T-levels, he said, appeared to rest on ‘unrealistic expectations’ about employer participation. He had heard murmurings that if T-levels didn’t receive the hoped-for level of support, ministers might ‘try to close down the alternatives such as BTECs.’
Lord Willets hoped the Front Bench would assure him that existing provision ‘will not be an unexpected victim of any problems that may face T-levels’.
LibDem peer Baroness Garden of Frognal was even more doubtful. T-levels,were ‘mistimed, mistaken and flawed,’ she said. BTec and City & Guilds qualifications were ‘tried and tested’ but they were being threatened and undermined ‘in favour of untried, untested T-levels’.
Baroness Garden accused Baroness Barran of repeating ‘the mantra that by renaming vocational qualifications as technical qualifications we would, at a stroke, solve the academic and vocational divide.’ But life wasn’t that simple, she added:
‘This Government will not be forgiven if, in pursuit of this latest initiative — which might well be one of many that founders in the course of time — they withdraw funding and support from technical, craft and vocational qualifications that have long served employers so well.’
She asked the Government to rethink T-levels, allow more time for piloting and, importantly, ‘to ensure that existing qualifications remain available and supported...’
This appeal is likely to be ignored. Education secretary Gavin Williams has already damned existing vocational exams with faint praise. The Government is committed to introducing T-levels. In doing so, as Lord Willets fears, it is likely to side-line existing vocational exams. But these are popular, well-known, well-understood and, crucially, they offer vocational exams at all levels not just Level Three.