T-level content review launched amid ‘worrying’ drop-out rate

Government said both the ‘breadth of content’ and ‘burden of assessment’ could be changed

Government said both the ‘breadth of content’ and ‘burden of assessment’ could be changed

26 Apr 2024, 10:21

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Government officials are now undertaking a “route-by-route” review of T-level content and assessment in a bid to boost recruitment and retention on the flagship qualifications.

Just 16,000 young people started a T-level in the fourth year of their rollout, according to new government data that also confirms a “worrying” dropout rate, a new action plan published on Thursday shows.

Pupil numbers for the qualifications, designed as the new technical equivalent to A-levels, grew by 58 per cent from 10,200 in September 2022.

Close to £1.8 billion has been spent on the qualifications to date, yet they have reached less than 3 per cent of the 16-to-19 pupil population.

Government officials are now taking steps to make T-levels “more commercially attractive” to exam boards by introducing higher entry fees for providers if numbers are low.

Despite the low recruitment, the government is ploughing ahead with controversial plans to remove funding for competing level-3 applied general qualifications from August.

’Very low T-level take-up’

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said “very low” take-up of T-levels leaves “plans to scrap applied general qualifications like BTECs dead in the water”.

According to Kewin, who leads the Protect Student Choice campaign, around 280,000 students are studying applied general qualifications, compared to around 26,000 studying a T-level.

“Even if the plan to replace the former with the latter was the right one, the numbers simply do not stack up (particularly as BTECs will start to be scrapped from next year) and will leave an enormous qualifications gap that tens of thousands of students will fall through.”

Both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have made a commitment to pause and review the plan to scrap most BTECs if either wins the next general election.

Figures released alongside the action plan confirm that one in three T-level students in wave two dropped out. These students enrolled on a T-level in 2021 and were due to complete in 2023.

Review looks at content breadth

Of the 5,321 students in the cohort, 3,510 – 66 per cent – completed the course and assessment. But 1,086 dropped T-levels for another course and a further 682 withdrew from education altogether.

Anne Murdoch, senior adviser in college leadership at the Association of School and College Leaders, said T-level retention was “worrying low”.

Every T-level will be reviewed by DfE agencies over the next 12 months following complaints from providers over “volume of content” and “unduly burdensome” assessment.

The DfE said “breadth of content” and “burden of assessment” could be changed as a result of the reviews, but “without compromising the rigour” of T-levels.

The government will also explore allowing awarding organisations to plan for core exams to be taken at different times over the two years.

“We are aware that, in some T Levels, providers have indicated that the volume of content and assessment may lead to challenges in delivering T Levels at scale.

“Providers have told us that the administration associated with some assessment can be unduly burdensome and presents a barrier to delivery at scale.”

Reviews will take place in the order the routes were introduced, beginning with T Levels in education, digital, construction and health and science. They will conclude by the summer with a view to introducing changes from next year. 

As well as input from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofqual, new “curriculum reference groups” made up of T-level teachers and industry experts will “suggest improvements” to the qualifications and provide feedback on proposed changes.

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