In my last blog I went on a minor diatribe about what I perceive to be a lack of technical, and specific, skills development across school curricula. We briefly explored the UK’s recent announcement of T Levels, which will stream the technically minded-student into an “A-Level Standard” of technical enrollment.

Streaming in schools is a contentious subject, and there are studies to show that streaming prior to upper secondary school can have a negative effect on both social and academic outcomes, particularly for underprivileged students. Streaming should really only be considered in a high school setting.

One of the reasons education systems consider academic/technical streaming is because of the concept of “future proofed work”. This essentially means preparing students for a changed world of work, one where computers/ robots/ AI are increasingly able to perform human functions: the top functions likely to be taken over by data crunching learning machines are in the legal and accounting professions, as well as rote and repetitive manual tasks.

I won’t rehash what I have written previously — but in terms of future-proof work, I found another great resource by McKinsey, that is a well-thought through, rational analysis of the future of work, and well worth a read for anyone interested in the rapid rate of change in the labor economy.

One interesting point that I want pull out is this: the world of work is changing and managing that transition will become a key component of the future — this means that skills associated with psychology, industrial psychology and human resources will be required in greater numbers, as humans and robots/AI begin to blend their work functions.

Exploring the T-Level Action Plan

Let’s take a more considered look at the UK government’s “T-Level Action Plan”, due for initial implementation in 2020, to understand how policy-makers are interpreting the labor and work-based challenges of the future.

On the heels of Brexit, the UK government felt the need to fast-track educational reform that provided a degree of sustained skills development among high school students, as well as deep and applicable job preparedness. The vision was succinct: “Just as A levels are demanded by universities, in time we want T levels to be demanded by employers for entry into skilled employment”.

The operation of the new program is basic: at age 16 all students are given the option of streaming into an A Level or T Level high school model; while A Levels are already well-regarded, the ambition is that T Levels attain a degree of prestige and recognition in their own right — and are a valid and equal qualification by comparison.

A distinctive feature of the T Level is that the curriculum standards will be established in partnership with employers, who will also be relied upon to provide a minimum of 3 months of work placement experience to qualifying students.

Another important feature is that the T program is further divided between Apprenticeship and T Levels. Where apprentices will train for a single occupation, T level students undertake a broader program, gaining skills and knowledge relevant to a range of occupations. At the end of their training an apprentice will meet all the knowledge, skills and behaviors set out in the apprenticeship standard, while T level students will have developed a wide range of relevant knowledge, skills and behaviors and will be able to progress into employment, higher level apprenticeships or higher level study.

The defining feature of the Apprenticeship and T Levels is that T levels are offered by education providers, and are by-and-large classroom-based, whereas Apprenticeships are fundamentally work-based training.

Program designers have decided on a 15 routes that make up the options in a T Level qualification. Each route groups together skills and behaviors that are common to a set of occupations. The 15 routes are:

  • Digital
  • Construction
  • Education and Childcare
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Health and Science
  • Hair and Beauty
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care
  • Business and Administrative
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Creative and Design
  • Transport and Logistics
  • Sales, Marketing and Procurement
  • Social Care
  • Protective Services

The next steps, with regard to actual design and implementation, will be complex and tricky for the UK government, as the current technical education landscape is quite muddled, and filled with varying qualifications, offered by a number of providers, many of which overlap. Employers and students report being confused by the number of qualifications, as well as disappointed that many courses do not in fact match what industry requires. The T Level action plan is designed to reduce the number of qualifications, while greatly improving their quality.

What role will ed-tech play?

It is too soon to establish how e-learning technologies will feature in this brave new action plan, although there can be no doubt that they will. Be assured that we will keep a ready eye on developments in the UK, with the hope that they find a winning formula in providing young people with practical, necessary qualifications that ensure equality and social mobility for everyone willing to learn.

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