The introduction of T Levels marked a major landmark in qualification history, with the first ever cohort completing the brand-new technical qualification last year. Like their A level peers, about 1,000 students opened their results last August to discover their overall achievement, so it is right that we have a specific day in National Apprenticeship Week celebrating their successes.
T Levels mark the most significant change to the qualification landscape since the decoupling of the AS in 2015. T Levels, and the Post-16 review, are changing the shape of England’s vocational and technical education offer, and it is vital that all stakeholders – schools, colleges, universities, employers and training providers – understand what these reforms mean for the future pipeline of students.
These reforms sit within broader changes that have been seen over the last few years, including the introduction of Higher Technical Qualifications and Degree Apprenticeships. In totality, this offers students a clear, high-quality technical education progression pathway from Level 3 onwards and it is vital that students understand the routes. At UCAS, we’re presenting these opportunities alongside undergraduate choices as part of our broad careers offer, which supports 1.5 million students each year, and as outlined in our recent announcement with the Department for Education, we are accelerating these ambitions to allow students to have a true side-by-side experience from 2024.
T Levels were designed to, and do offer, a broad range of opportunities. A recent Department for Education (DfE) publication reveals that nearly a third (31%) of students planned to progress to university study, about a fifth (21%) intended to progress to an apprenticeship (including degree apprenticeship), and just over a quarter (27%) intended to enter paid employment. But what do we know of the progression of the first group of students to complete the qualification?
Are T Levels accepted by universities?
From the moment T Levels were first announced, it sparked a debate about whether universities and employers would accept these new qualifications for entry. The publication of a list of universities that had confirmed their entry requirements went on to generate plenty of discussion across the sector and, to date, more than 130 universities have confirmed they will consider T Level students for at least one of their courses. In truth, it is not surprising that it took time for universities to decide on their position – due to the small numbers involved and the gradual subject-by-subject roll out, some institutions would not have seen a T Level applicant in 2022. It is important that universities and colleges that have not publicly stated their position yet do so sooner rather than later, as this will ensure prospective T Level students have access to their full range of options.
Diving into the data, we saw 510 students holding a T Level apply to higher education (HE) in 2022. These students were more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds, with 23% from Q1 areas, compared to 11% of A level students. Of all T Level applicants, almost every single one received at least one offer, which is an overwhelmingly positive indication that HE is accepts these new qualifications. What is also interesting to note is that these students applied to, and received offers from, the full range of universities – including the most competitive institutions. Again, this is a positive and encouraging signal for the acceptance of T Levels. By the end of the 2022 cycle, 410 (80%) of these students were accepted onto a course, which compares positively with 84% for A Levels and 79% for BTECs.
What subject areas did students pursue?
The most common T Level held by applicants was in Education and Childcare, which made up nearly half of applicants. Digital Production, Design and Development accounted for 35% of applicants, and Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction made up the remainder. We also know that half of those that studied the Design, Survey and Planning for Construction T Level intended to progress to an apprenticeship, as did over a quarter of those studying Digital Production, Design and Development.
As is common with large, single subject qualifications (such as an Extended Diploma), the subject taken at Level 3 strongly mirrors that studied at Level 4 and above, with Education and Training, Computing and Architecture, Building and Planning courses the most popular progression routes. However, we did also see examples of students progressing to Social Sciences, Psychology and Subjects Allied to Medicine. This clearly demonstrates that the skills developed as part of a T Level can help them progress onto a breadth of different routes.
How can we enhance future experience?
With more T Levels being rolled out, applicant interest continues to grow in 2023. This cycle, as of the January equal consideration deadline, we have seen 1,700 students holding a T Level apply to higher education – a three-fold uplift. The progression experience of the 510 before them has been generally positive. However, a key theme of feedback from T Level students over the past year has been about visibility of pathways. This is to be expected with a new qualification and with increased data and insight on the progression of these students, UCAS and others will be able to articulate those future pathways further, with better and more personalised careers information. And the need for high quality careers guidance is increasing - we are forecasting that this decade we could see up to a million undergraduate applicants. In this more competitive environment, choice is more critical, and it is key that students know all of their options.
During this period, we will also the see qualification landscape change as T Levels become a more significant part of it. As this occurs, it is vital that these students have parity with A level students on many levels – understanding of what the qualification entails, opportunity to progress, and enhanced visibility of pathways. Every student should be able to consider studying a T Level knowing fully what progression opportunities it offers across university study, apprenticeships and employment. At UCAS, we deliver personlised information and advice to students via the UCAS Hub, with our careers quiz and industry guides highlighting pathways for T levels students.
It is also key that these students have opportunities available to them across the full range of post-secondary pathways. At present, we know that half of students interested in undergraduate courses are also interested in apprenticeships – this amounts to over 400,000 students. As the 18-year-old demographic grows, and T Levels mature, this number will surely increase. However, we need to ensure opportunities exist for these students – currently, the number of starts for young people at Level 4 and above amount to 4,700. There is a clear need to unlock the supply of opportunities to ensure pathways are not only visible, but also available.