Following the Treasury’s announcement of additional budget funding for technical education, ‘T-levels’ have been touted as the new alternative to A-Levels, but what exactly are they? Technical qualifications expert Gemma Gathercole explains

1. What are ‘T-Levels’?

‘T-Levels’ is the name that has been given by the media to government’s planned overhaul of technical education. Between now and 2022, 15 new pathways will be developed in 15 sector areas where substantial technical training is required to progress into employment. These courses have also been referred to as Tech Levels.

2. Are T-Levels a new announcement?

From the coverage over the weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is all new, but plans have been in place for some months. The reason that this has caught the attention has been the new announcement that more money will be made available to deliver these routes.

READ MORE: Why design T-levels when we already have an equivalent?

When these developments were first announced in the ‘Post-16 Skills’ plan, they were to be developed “where that is possible within current budget constraints”. The Chancellor has now announced that there will be an additional investment of £500m by September 2022.

3. Can I study T-Levels now?

No. These new routes are currently being developed; the first ‘pathfinder’ routes are planned for teaching in September 2019 and the rest should be in place by September 2022.

4. What areas will T-Levels cover?

Technical routes will be developed in 15 sector areas:

Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care

Business and Administrative

Catering and Hospitality

Childcare and Education


Creative and Design


Engineering and Manufacturing

Hair and Beauty

Health and Science

Legal, Finance and Accounting

Protective Services

Sales, Marketing and Procurement

Social Care

Transport and Logistics

5. Will there be 15 qualifications to choose from?

No. There will be more than 15. Although there are 15 sectors, some of them are broad and cover a range of occupational areas, so it wouldn’t be possible to develop a single qualification that would cover the whole areas.

6. So how many qualifications will there be?

This hasn’t been decided yet and the final decision will be informed by industry panels made up to reflect the breath of the 15 sectors. For example, the ‘Digital’ route can be broken down into three broad occupational areas (IT support and services; software and applications design and development; data and digital business services), however, the ‘creative and design’ route, which covers occupations from furniture maker to journalist may be split into more sub-sections.

7. Are T-Levels new qualifications?

Yes, and no. New qualifications will be developed. But the announcement of 15 technical routes is more than just about qualifications.

Employer-led panels will develop new “standards” that will underpin the technical routes; these standards will underpin both the T-Levels and apprenticeships. Occupational maps will be developed that will show relationships between occupations in each route. Technical qualifications (T-Levels) will then be developed based on these standards.

8. So are T-Levels new BTECs?

BTEC is a brand that is currently used for qualifications offered by Pearson Education. These run alongside other existing vocational qualifications that offer routes into employment or higher education. Pearson, along with other awarding organisations, may offer new T-Levels, but there will be a tendering process to determine which organisations or consortia of organisations offer these new qualifications.

9. Can I take T-Levels at school?

It’s possible that some of the technical routes can be offered in schools, but it’s more likely that you would take these courses in a college because of the technical nature of the training required.

10. So can I choose any of the 15 technical routes at a college?

Eleven of the 15 routes will be available as two-year college courses or as apprenticeships, the remaining four routes are likely to be available via apprenticeships only. The apprenticeship-only routes are: protective services; sales, marketing and procurement; social care; and transport and logistics.

11. I’ve heard about ‘Tech Levels’ and a ‘TechBacc’, are these the same as T-Levels?

It’s easy to be confused. Tech Levels currently exist. As part of changes to the 16-19 performance tables, existing vocational qualifications were designated ‘Tech Levels’ if they met specific criteria.

The new qualifications that will be developed will share some characteristics of those qualifications designated as ‘Tech Levels’ for performance tables, but they will be new qualifications, based on newly developed standards.

The ‘TechBacc’ is a performance measure that is used in 16-19 performance tables; the new qualifications will contribute to this measure once they’re developed. The ‘TechBacc’ requires students to achieve a Tech Level qualification, a level 3 maths qualification and an extended project qualification.

This shouldn’t be confused with the ‘TechBac’, which is a specific product created by qualification provider City and Guilds for 14-19 year olds that combines a City & Guilds technical qualification and workplace skills.

Gemma Gathercole is head of funding and assessment at Lsect. Prior to that, she was head of policy for FE and funding for awarding body OCR

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  1. Ian Glossop

    As ever the devil is in the detail.

    How and when will the detail of the T-Levels be communicated – and how widely?

    And will T-Level be stable and long-lived ie exist and be used for 15-20 years? Or will they be just another politicians’ fad swallowed in the meaningless morass of existing UK technical qualifications? Is the development of T-Levels properly funded?

  2. Phil Beal

    The Academic Vocational divide has been a thorn in the side of UK Education system since the advent of universal primary education in 1870, and the appearance of Mechanics Institutes and the Work Education Associations. Even Pupil apprenticeships are not new – first making their appearance in the landscape in the late 19th Century. This landscape is also littered with a plethora of failed developments CEEs, TECs BECs, CPVE, TVEI, GNVQs, Gilbert Jessops NCVQs work on NVQ etc etc to mention but a few. Throughout the profession has worked relentlessly to make these curriculum developments work and not allow students to get caught in the cross fire and disadvantaged. As of September 2016 schools and colleges are grappling with and investing a huge amount of energy into making the launch of the new generation BTEC Nationals for example a working success despite their still being fundamental questions that need to be answered about significant questions re external assessment issues and the requirement for learner employer engagement. Not to mention the huge investment in development time AOs have invested to get things this far. It would appear that with the advent of the proposed T Levels all the time effort and energy already invested in the New Generation quals will be sided lined and at break neck speed yet another tidal wave of change will sweep through the education system which is struggling to cope with existing multiple cycles of change none of which have had sufficient time to consolidate/stabilize and bed down. There’s a limit to what those in the professional can cope with who are already at full stretch and close to breaking point. May be its also this constant change and the pace of this change that’s at the root cause of the country’s technical education provision that’s putting at the bottom end of international league tables

  3. Anthony Barron

    Why are they not called A-Levels? Discrimination against these subjects, and those capable of learning them, is being built in from the outset.
    Regarding a different aspect, physical skills are better introduced at age 6 rather than 16; and surely should form part of normal education?