T Levels Explained (by someone who didn’t know what they were)

When I talk to careers professionals about T Levels a few things usually happen: they shift nervously on their feet, look down at the floor and, invariably, say ‘they are kinda like apprenticeships, aren’t they?’ Well… not exactly.

I should add at this point that I, too, was once one of those people that clammed up on hearing the phrase T Levels. What does the T even stand for!? (The T is for ‘technical’… Like the A in A Level means ‘advanced’). I knew T Levels were about to exist but didn’t really understand how, why or if they were important to me as a careers leader. There was no great fanfare when the first wave of T Levels rolled out. In fact, in the school I was at, no one ever talked about T Levels. T Levels happened elsewhere – not in schools, and most certainly not in schools with Sixth Forms. I had a bzillion other things to do: 80 English language mocks to mark, convincing the SLT to take the Baker Clause seriously, wondering how I could make my yearly careers budget of £500 stretch beyond a single Year 10 visit to a careers fair etc etc. T Levels did not really enter my priority list. Shame on me…

… because this is where Gatsby Benchmark 3 comes screeching in. Not understanding and promoting T Levels as a viable progression in their education meant that I was limiting the options for the young people under my care. All 1200 of them. Addressing the needs of each student means ensuring all students are aware of their options post 16 and/or post-18.

Now I have aired my personal shortcomings in public (or at least to the readership of this fine careers network) I should say that I know most of you will know what T Levels are. However… just in case there is anyone still out there with a few misgivings, questions or (to hell with it I will just say it) do not know what T Levels are, this next bit is for you.

T Levels – what are they?

T Levels are a two-year Level 3 qualification providing students with the technical knowledge and skills specific to their chosen industry or occupation.

They have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses to ensure the content prepares students for the skills industries need.

How do they work?

T Levels are 80% classroom based and 20% work based. Students are given an overall grade for the T Level (pass, merit, distinction), a separate grade for the core component (A* to E), and a separate grade for each occupational specialism.

A T Level is worth the equivalent of 3 A Levels. UCAS tariff points are also applied to the overall T Level grade earned by a student.

Every T Level student completes a minimum 45-day placement with an employer, which can be taken as a day release, in a block, or as a mixture of the two.

What T Levels are there?

T Levels are being introduced in waves, with more T Levels becoming available each September. Click here for a full list of what T Levels are currently available.

These are great words… but they sound a lot like an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship carries an 80% work placement with 20% ‘off the job’ training.

An apprentice must decide on their specialism before applying for an apprenticeship.

An apprenticeship gains you occupational competence in your chosen specialism, but it doesn’t transfer easily to the academic route should you want to change your mind.

Therefore, an apprenticeship is perfect if you know you want to be a building services design technician and have decided you want to embark on a career within construction.

But, but… I don’t know any 16-year-olds who know they want to be a building services design technician. It’s far too specific! They only know they want to enter ‘construction’.

If only there was a Level 3 qualification in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction where a learner can get a good overall grounding in construction but also have the option to specialise in building services design and potentially have the option to diversify if they wanted to.

That would be great, wouldn’t it? Here’s the T Level.

So, wait… they aren’t like an apprenticeship?


A T Level is 80% classroom based and caters to those students that prefer the classroom environment.

A T Level student gets a good overall grounding of, say, the Design, Planning and Construction T Level but will also specialise in a specific discipline (such as building services design).

Therefore, a T Level student doesn’t necessarily need to know the specific occupation they want to enter, just the general sector or industry they want to work in.

After completing the T Level, the learner could progress to an apprenticeship or they could progress to university.

I LOVE T LEVELS – how can I support my students?

This remarkably good student-facing government website is brill. Link it on your careers page.

There is a whole host of resources for teachers and careers advisers on this government page. There is a really good student pack that you can weave into your provision, along with a poster pack to update your careers board.

The Institute for Apprenticeships also has progression profiles to show where a T Level student could go next. I wouldn’t show these to students, but they are definitely good for careers advisers and careers leaders. So there you go. T Levels are amazing. Now go spread the word.

2 thoughts on “T Levels Explained (by someone who didn’t know what they were)

  1. The one thing that has not been mentioned in here about T Levels which I was not originally aware of and have been told is that they are 100% exams. I have also been told that students must pass every element, including the placement, to achieve the qualification.

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