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 T Levels are two-year courses that can be studied by 16-18 year olds after finishing their GCSEs

'Disconnection' and 'significant policy churn' may impact the success of T Level vocational qualifications, study warns

Disconnection between further education lecturers and industry and significant policy churn may impact on the success of T Level qualifications, a new study warns.

Regular changes of Government views towards vocational and technical qualifications has led to those who participated in the research who teach in further education feeling disempowered and “unsettled”. They feel distant from industry and that their technical skills are undervalued.

These issues mean vocational qualifications may continue to be perceived as having lower status, despite the introduction of T Levels.

The research, presented at the BERA 2022 conference, was carried out by Louise Misselke, Principal of the College of Further Education and Executive Director of The Guernsey Institute, as part of her EdD research at the University of Exeter.

Dr Misselke examined how vocational qualifications were viewed in England by lecturers who teach them. She also examined Government policy on vocational qualifications over the past 35 years.

Dr Misselke said: “Although the Government has recognized employers as critical stakeholders it has done little until very recently to bring employers to the centre of any development of technical or vocational courses.

“Those interviewed felt disconnected from employers linked to their profession of origin. This in turn impacted on their perceived ability to support the T level roll out.

“The constant policy churn has resulted in a lack of trust and legitimacy for this form of education, this is one possible explanation for the portrayal and the status issue that new T level qualifications are designed to address.

“Against the backdrop of the perceived low value status of technical and vocational education, it is clear that it may be time to rethink the way we deliver vocational knowledge.”

The study recommends lecturers should be able to do more to maintain contact with their profession of origin, particularly enabling back to practice events and involving employers as co-constructors in curriculum and pedagogy.

The six lecturers interviewed were “non-committal” that T Levels would change the hierarchal portrayal of vocational or technical education.

Dr Misselke said: “The Government frequently refers to vocational education as the route to flourishing industry which will in turn fuel the economy, leading to societal well-being of the whole population. It is problematic therefore that historically government appears to have done little to bring employers, industry and the professions together as central partners into the development of this form of education.

“Policy churn, policy borrowing and constant shifts and changes in the political context over the last ten years has done little to secure the legitimacy and trust in this form of education by the industries it claims to serve. It is a conundrum for lecturers who took part in this study as they recognised the critical importance of their own profession of origin to their identity and as such maintained their own networks in order to maintain their vocational or technical expertise. They recognised the essential need to stay close to industry. They recognised that for the most part their employer had not enabled them to continue to develop these networks or foster positive relationships with local industry partners related to their profession of origin. Lecturers in the study largely maintained these networks themselves.”

Date: 6 September 2022