Students are ‘misled’ about content of courses while industry placements can be inappropriate, regulator finds

Ofsted has published a critical report on T-levels and warned the qualifications need “considerable work” before they can fulfil their potential.

The education regulator said the two-year courses have been published with “varying degrees of success” with students’ experiences differing “considerably”.

Shortages of qualified staff to train students, problems finding suitable placements and high drop-out rates are some of the issues mentioned by Ofsted.

The report was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and is the first independent assessment of T-levels.

While it said the courses can provide quality training, at worst they are “not at all what students expected”, adding that many students reported being “misled and ill informed about their content and structure”.

Matt Macalino - T Level - Bridgwater & Taunton

A T-level student in Taunton

Initial assessments of students’ abilities at the start of their courses are “weak” in most providers, with teachers not assessing effectively enough what students know in relation to their chosen pathway, the report found.

“They do not identify gaps in students’ knowledge and understanding precisely enough to inform curricular planning and make sure that students make secure progress,” it said.

While Ofsted found the practical aspects of the courses are often taught well, it said teachers often struggle to teach theoretical content in sufficient depth or to set work that is appropriately challenging.

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This is partly because of difficulties faced by providers in recruiting and retaining staff with the required experience and expertise.

The quality of placements also varies considerably, with challenges faced by providers including limited numbers of placements in any given area because of local variations in the size of employment sectors.

Often employers are “poorly informed” about the content of T-levels, resulting in activities completed by students on the placements not being relevant or appropriate to their course.

Ofsted gave en even more critical appraisal of TLTPs, a one-year course for 16 to 19-year-olds to provide a route to T-levels.

The regulator said some TLTPs are “not fit for purpose” and few students who complete the programme move on to a T-level course.

For some students, the report said the TLTP results in “no meaningful outcome after a year on the programme”.

T-levels were among the education programmes classified as ‘red’ in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s (IPA) latest annual major projects report, published this week.

The IPA defines the rating as: “Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We commissioned this report from Ofsted to support the roll out of T-levels and we welcome the recognition of these high-quality qualifications as a strong technical pathway for young people when delivered effectively.

“We have already made good progress to address many of the areas highlighted in the report, but we know further action is needed.

“To support providers and ensure T-level delivery is a success, we are continuing to offer a range of support, including funding to help more businesses to offer industry placement and additional funding for facilities through the T-level capital fund, with £100 million for over 100 projects in the latest wave of funding this month.”