If you’re taking GCSE or equivalent courses, you will be starting to think about your next steps. You’ll have heard about A Levels and apprenticeships, but may be less familiar with T Levels. T Levels are new ‘technical’ qualifications being introduced in England, aimed at students aged 16-18/19.
This article describes the main features of T Levels and will help you think about whether or not taking one might be the best choice for you.
What are T Levels?
- T Levels provide another option post-16 and are being offered alongside apprenticeships, A Levels and other level 3 qualifications, such as BTEC Nationals.
- T Levels are available in broad employment sectors and within a T Level you also specialise in a certain occupation.
- T Level courses take two years to complete on a full-time basis.
- A T Level is equivalent to three A Levels.
How are T Levels delivered?
T Levels are taught through a mixture of classroom-based learning (80%) and work experience (20%).
To achieve a T Level you must complete a ‘technical qualification’ covering the core theory, concepts and skills needed for your chosen sector of work, plus the skills and knowledge required for an occupational specialism. You also have to undertake an extended, relevant work placement over at least 315 hours (that’s about 45 days); this might be one day a week or blocks of experience (or a mixture of both). In some cases, students gain experience with more than one employer.
What subjects are available?
The first T Levels were introduced in September 2020. A number of T Levels subjects are now available at certain schools, colleges and other providers, but others are due to be introduced in the next year or so. Eventually, the plan is for 23 T Levels to be available across England.
The following subjects are already offered:
- building services engineering for construction (specialisms include gas engineering, plumbing and heating engineering, and electrical and electronic equipment engineering)
- design, surveying and planning for construction (specialisms within this T Level are: building services design, civil engineering, hazardous materials analysis and surveying, and surveying and design for construction and the built environment)
- digital business services
- digital production, design and development
- digital support services (there are specialisms in digital infrastructure, network cabling, unified communications and digital support)
- education and childcare (with specialisms in early years education, assisting teaching, and supporting and mentoring students in further and higher education)
- health (you can specialise in supporting different healthcare teams: adult nursing, midwifery, mental health, therapy or caring for children and young people; the option to specialise in dental nursing will be available from September 2022)
- healthcare science (assisting with healthcare science – there are plans to offer other specialisms in the future)
- onsite construction (you can train in carpentry and joinery, plastering, bricklaying or painting and decorating)
- science (there are currently specialisms in laboratory sciences, food sciences and metrology sciences).
From this September (2022), you may be able to take a T Level in:
- design and development for engineering and manufacturing
- engineering, manufacturing, processing and control
- maintenance, installation and repair for engineering and manufacturing
- management and administration.
From September 2023, there are plans to introduce T Levels in:
- agriculture, land management and production
- animal care and management
- craft and design
- hairdressing, barbering and beauty therapy
- legal services
- media, broadcast and production.
What are the entry requirements for T Levels?
Individual schools and colleges set their own entry requirements for T Levels. As with other courses at level 3, you usually need around five GCSEs at grades 9-4 and certain subjects, such as English and maths, may be requested. It’s important to check what you need for any courses that interest you.
If you think you would like to take a T Level, but aren’t yet ready, you could consider doing a T Level Transition Programme. This is a one-year, tailored course to prepare you for the T Level subject you want to study. It includes English, maths and digital skills, work preparation and experience, technical knowledge and skills, pastoral support and guidance.
How are T Levels graded and certified?
Once you’ve completed your T Level, you receive a nationally recognised certificate; this will show:
- your grade for the core component – from A* to E
- your grade for the occupational specialism – pass, merit or distinction
- your overall T Level grade – pass, merit, distinction or distinction* - this is calculated using the grades you get for the core component and occupational specialism (to get an overall distinction* you have to get an A* in the core and a distinction in the occupational specialism)
- confirmation that you’ve completed your placement
- that you’ve achieved any other qualifications considered necessary for the particular T Level.
If you don’t pass all elements, you’ll get a T Level statement of achievement to show what components you have completed.
What options are available after T Levels?
Achieving a T Level can open the door to various options including entering skilled employment, an apprenticeship (possibly at higher or degree level) or university study. T Levels are awarded UCAS Tariff points for entry to higher education; these are based on your overall T Level grade as follows:
- distinction* – 168 points – equivalent to grades A*A*A* at A Level
- distinction – 144 points – equivalent to grades AAA at A Level
- merit – 120 points – equivalent to grades BBB at A Level
- pass (grade C or better on the core) – 96 points – equivalent to grades CCC at A Level
- pass (grade D or E on the core) – 72 points – equivalent to grades DDD at A Level.
What about the quality of T Levels?
Each T Level has been developed with employers and learning providers with support from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the Department for Education (DfE). The skills and requirements, and the qualification content, are agreed by ‘T Level panels’, which are made up of groups of employers. This should ensure that anyone who takes a T Level develops the technical skills and knowledge needed by employers in their chosen industrial area.
How to make a decision?
Now that you know something about T Levels, ask yourself some key questions…
1. Do I have a particular career in mind?
If you know exactly what you want to do, you may find that an apprenticeship is the best option. However, if you’re not yet ready to commit to a career and the world of work, and want to learn about a broader sector of employment whilst also specialising in an occupation within this area, a relevant T Level may be more appropriate.
2. What is available locally?
T Levels are not available in all schools and colleges, so you need to check whether it’s possible to take your chosen subject within commuting distance of your home. You can search for T Levels using your postcode through the Government’s T Levels site. You can also download an approved providers list at GOV.UK.
3. How do I like to learn?
T Levels are mainly delivered through classroom learning, but are practical in nature and you get the chance to apply your learning through a work placement. Most A Levels, on the other hand, are theoretical. On an apprenticeship, the balance of learning is the reverse of T Levels - 80% of your time is spent learning in the workplace and 20% in off-the-job training. Think about which study mode would suit your preferred learning style.
4. What if I’m thinking about going to university?
T Levels can provide an entry route to higher education courses, particularly those in the vocational area you have studied. However, if you want to keep your options open, check their acceptability with individual universities. T Levels are not accepted for entry to all university course, especially those that are more ‘academic’.
You can find out more about T Levels in general through the Government’s T Levels site.
You can also watch videos on the DfE's T Level YouTube channel.
If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or live in an area of England where the T Level you want to do isn’t available locally, there are other vocational qualifications, such as BTEC Nationals, that take a similar approach.
Talk things over with your teachers and get advice on your options through your school or the National Careers Service in England, Careers Wales, Skills Development Scotland or the Careers Service for Northern Ireland
If you’ve decided that a T Level is right for you, check the content of the course carefully and contact course providers so that you understand their approach to delivery. If the T Level is in a subject that is already running, try to talk with current students about their experiences – they’re bound to give you some honest information!
Debbie Steel, February 2022
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.