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Baker Dearing talks T Levels at Westminster Education Forum

The Baker Dearing Educational Trust gave educationalists a “whirlwind” look at how University Technical Colleges are succeeding with T Levels on Wednesday 20 September.

Baker Dearing’s senior advisor and T Levels lead Steve Leahey spoke as part of a panel at a Westminster Education Forum event, ‘Post-T Level progression – the role of T Levels in addressing skills gaps, and improving employer awareness and pathways to employment, apprenticeships and higher education.’

Steve told the event it was “great” that UTCs were involved in the discussion, as they are “uniquely positioned” to deliver T Levels, owing to their fully developed STEM curriculum and focus on student destinations.

Speaking to the around 80 attendees at the virtual event, Steve said: “I’m really pleased with the way T Levels have launched in UTCs.

“I know there are going to be challenges further down the line and some of those T Levels are yet to be delivered.

“But what I am finding is that the students themselves are really enjoying T Levels and particularly the opportunity to complete the work placement, which they see as the icing on the cake in terms of the T Level, compared to existing vocational qualifications.”

T Levels delivered by just under half of UTCs

Since leaving his previous role as principal of The Leigh UTC, which was part of the first wave of T Level providers, Steve has been helping UTCs plan and develop a T Level strategy for the post-16 curriculum.

As of this September, just under half of all 44 UTCs will deliver T Levels. Those that have already started delivering have seen students progressing onto successful destinations and have achieved high retention rates.

Steve explained that such high rates are due to a number of factors: “Obviously ensuring students are on the right programme to begin with.

“Having prior knowledge of the students and what they have already achieved at Key Stage 4 – and possibly Key Stage 3 – is really important.”

As opposed to FE, where the overwhelming majority of students start at 16, UTC students start at an earlier age, which allows teachers and employers to work with students on progression routes.

“If you can bring employers in and talk to students about apprenticeships and skills gaps, it makes a huge difference,” Steve said.

Questions around higher education progression have come into “sharp focus”

While UTCs have seen T Level students progress onto advanced and higher apprenticeships as well as university, Steve told the audience that the questions around T Levels and HE had come into “sharp focus”.

“The question at the moment is really around mathematics and whether HE institutions believe the level of maths within the T Level is sufficient for students to join a degree programme, or whether the university would want them to start a foundation year. That still needs to be resolved.”

Steve expressed his concern about the “diminished number of engineering degree programmes available for T Level leavers.”

It is also an issue that some of the students who apply to study T Levels at UTCs “will not have studied any technical subjects at Key Stage 4,” having instead followed an Ebacc curriculum. Baker Dearing wants to see students take technical subjects at GCSE, so they are prepared for the more advanced learning of T Levels.

Steve recently visited a UTC where the students are studying electronics at Key Stage 4 and virtually all of them progressed onto T Level engineering this September.

Speaking after Steve’s contribution, the panel’s host and Department for Business and Trade TVET specialist Jonathan Ledger thanked him for his “whirlwind” tour of UTCs.