Following the Government’s U-turn on the method of generating A-Level and GCSE results earlier in the month, a new diverse and better articulated vocational qualification will be available to select sixth form students returning in September.

Recommended by the Wolf Report and dubbed T-Levels, these new technical based qualifications will help streamline and reduce the complexity and confusion among the UK’s variety of vocational qualifications.

Like A-Levels, T-Levels will take two years to complete with the course being split, with 80% of the time in the classroom and 20% on placements supported by local employers in the specified industry. A minimum of 45 days of work placement is required among students and after the two years, a student receiving a starred distinction on paper earns the equivalent of three A*s at A-Level.

It is important not to downplay the consequences Covid-19 has inflicted among those in school. However, the time has passed and it is extremely important students return to study. I fear for the many who have been handed a place at a University without even willingly sitting a formal exam.

Universities need the money, but allowing an intake using predicted grades could allow some students to participate in courses they are not cut out for.

For a long time, sixth form students have not been encouraged to divert away from following the majority who now go on to study at University. Institutions which are now becoming more out of touch with the skills required to find employment in the working world.

I am not arguing that a university education is not beneficial or required for certain specific career paths – Medicine, Engineering and Economics come to mind. Others may envision becoming an academic themselves and universities are the place for this. It is true that degrees are still extremely favourable among employers, and many sixth form students are attracted to moving away from home and experiencing the social side of higher education.

However, many students are leaving school willing to be saddled with debt to fund a course,  which in hindsight could be of little use. These so-called ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees have been on the rise in recent years. Examples include Photography, Film, Events Management and Travel and Tourism.

To me, it makes little sense to pay to study tourism in a academic manner, if one envisages a future career here. Surely, getting a practical qualification while working within this industry and its sectors would prepare an ex-sixth form student better than sitting in a lecture hall being told ‘What it is to work in tourism’. With this in mind, the stress and pressure present in higher education and lack of practical hands-on experience do seem to make certain ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees a waste of time.

With over 52% of sixth form students leaving to study at university, I argue it’s time to embrace change with the introduction of T Levels and encourage future students to think twice before automatically seeking a degree.

It is time for universities to turn back the clock, refocus their expertise on their academically rigorous courses and stop encouraging prospective students doing  worthless degrees – all in the name of fees.

Many students leave university with little practical work experience skills – something which employers now focus on just as much as any qualifications.

Students who seek a practical skill-based career should not put off taking a T Level in their preferred speciality. The work placement within this qualification opens up the doors to practical skills and networking, which would help increase the likelihood of future employment, without the student having to build debt over tuition fees.

Those who complete such a course, however, are not denied the chance to attend university afterwards. UCAS has worked to make the application process as simple as it is when applying with A-Levels and BTECs.

Alternatively, many may get offered jobs with the placement provider, on completion of the T-Level. The opportunities are vast here and should not be overlooked.

With the end of the UK’s transition period with the EU on the horizon, a skills shortage is likely to follow and increase with time. T-Levels offer sixth form students a new opportunity to practically engage with a qualification, benefiting local employers and the student themselves with regards to future work prospects.

However, the rollout will be slow and only 3 courses are available this year – Design, Surveying and Planning for construction, Digital production, Design and Development, and Education and Childcare. Furthermore, only 202 institutions are set to teach the programme over the next 3 years across England, so certain prospective GCSE students may not have an equal opportunity depending on  their location. However, now is the time to start properly encouraging more students from all backgrounds to take a vocational path. The forthcoming implementation of T-Levels seems wise. 

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