The government has been accused of “not walking the walk” on T-levels industry placements as an investigation reveals a dearth of opportunities being provided by Whitehall departments and education agencies.
Data obtained via Freedom of Information requests by sister title FE Week reveals that the majority of government departments, including the Treasury, have not offered a single placement since the launch of the flagship qualifications in 2020.
This is despite suitable T-levels, which are the vocational equivalent of A-levels, now being available in subjects such as digital and management and administration.
The figures show that just four placements have been provided by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), the government body responsible for developing and promoting T-levels.
Other Department for Education agencies including the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Student Loans Company, the Office for Students and Ofsted, have all provided no T-level placements to date.
Placements make T Levels ‘gold standard’
The industry placement element of T-levels is lauded by education ministers as the main reason why their new “gold standard” technical qualification stands above other level 3 rivals.
Students are required to complete a placement lasting at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days) to achieve a T-level. But college leaders regularly cite local placement opportunities and lack of employer appetite for hosting learners as a key concern as more T-levels become available across the country.
Tom Richmond, a former adviser to DfE ministers who now heads up the EDSK think tank, said: “If government departments cannot find the time and energy to offer these placements then they can hardly blame other employers for being reticent about engaging with T-levels.”
The DfE itself has performed best out of all departments. It provided six placements in 2021-22 for T-level digital production, design and development students in their teacher services, digital and capital teams.
It has 11 placements planned for this year, three further digital placements and eight for T-level management and administration students. However only one of those had been completed by the date of the FOI response, on June 26.
Departmental T-level placements
The DfE is a Whitehall outlier, however. The Department for Work and Pensions has offered just five placements, each of them for T-level digital students in their digital team.
The DWP did say that it had 24 placements planned for 2023-24 for management and administration T-level students within its commercial, counter fraud, customer service and digital teams.
The Cabinet Office and Department of Health have both provided just three placements each over the past two years. Two placements have been provided by the Department for Transport and one by the Home Office.
The Treasury, Foreign Office, Department for Levelling Up and Communities and Department for Culture, Media and Sport are all yet to offer a single T-level industry placement. The same is true for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.
The Department for Business and Trade offered two placements this year but those have not been taken up by students. The Ministry of Defence is the only department yet to respond to FE Week’s FOI request.
Ofqual told FE Week that it previously sought to offer placements for students but, due to “geographical limitations”, has not “been in a position to support students studying those courses for which Ofqual would be able to offer relevant placements”.
Other DfE agencies were blunter. “Social Work England has never provided and does not plan to provide T-level industry placements,” their FOI response said.
Leading by example
IfATE, which has lead responsibility for developing and promoting T-levels, has only offered four placements in total. Last year it offered placements to two digital support and services T-level students in their digital services and commissioning teams. To date this year, just one placement has been taken up with a further one planned.
Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said the government should be leading by example. “This is an example of the government talking the talk and not walking the walk,” he said.
“If the government can’t be a leading employer in offering T-level placements, why should others?”
A DfE spokesperson said: “As more young people opt to take T-levels it will be vital that employers from across the public and private sectors can offer more placements.”
The poor performance of government departments comes despite DfE officials putting on workshops and providing online guidance on providing T-level industry placements for their Whitehall colleagues.