Changing Our Pathways: What are T-Levels and why should I care about them?

I’m still in the land of the shingles lesions and so not up to drafting some of the many ideas I have brewing for blog posts, but I thought I’d share something I recently wrote for the Association of Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB) on T-Levels. The ACB are one of my professional bodies and they are doing a great job of trying to raise awareness of different routes into Healthcare Science, these routes won’t just feed into HCS however and so I think we should all know a little more about T-Levels.

What are T-Levels and Why Should I Care About Them?

In 2017 I saw an advert from the Department of Education looking for an employer representative to sit on a panel to develop a new vocational qualification, known as the Technical Level or T-Level, for Healthcare Science.  This came about as part of a wider educational review looking at how to change vocational qualifications so they aligned better with what employers were looking for, and to fit in better with other routes such as apprenticeships and A-Levels.  I was lucky enough to be selected and for the next year a panel of fellow Healthcare Scientists, Educators and Department for Education representatives met monthly to design a new qualification to help budding scientists access the Healthcare Science profession.  Since then we have been working with Further Education teams to roll out the qualification and the T-Level launching for early adopters in September 2021 is the result. 

So What is A T-Level?

T-Levels are equivalent to 3 A-Levels and offer an intermediate choice between traditional academic routes into Healthcare Science i.e. A-Levels followed by undergraduate study and Healthcare Science Apprenticeships, which are 80% workplace based and 20% further education based.  T-Levels are 80% based in a further education institution but have a 20% work placement.  They are broadly split into 3 components:

  1. Technical Qualification = the main, classroom-based element. Students will learn about different areas of Healthcare Science through a curriculum designed by employers and developed by an awarding organisation.
  2. Industry Placement = runs for a minimum of 315 hours (45 days) overall and will give students practical insights into their sector and an opportunity to embed the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom.
  3. English, maths and digital provision = built into the classroom-based element of the T Level, meaning students will be given a solid foundation of transferable skills.

As T-levels are also eligible for UKAS points, when a student completes the T-Level they can either choose to progress to further education, via an undergraduate degree, or can enter a degree level apprenticeship scheme and continue via work place based progression.

Why Should We Care?

One of the problems faced by the Healthcare Science profession is that routes into it are becoming much more structured than they were when I entered 17 years ago.  In many ways this is great and provides a much better quality of training and structured career progression.  The downside of it is that students need to be aware that Healthcare Science exists as an option in order to be choosing the right degree or entry point.  By providing a course like this early to students before university it will enable them to make more informed choices about the courses that are right for them, as well as raising awareness of the profession.  For those students who opt to continue onto the apprenticeship route, it provides employers with a growing pool of students who will be well placed to apply for these roles, who will have knowledge and experience of what it means to be a Healthcare Scientist.

What Does All This Require of Me?

In order to make the new T-Level work we will need to engage with it as a profession.  This will include linking in with further education establishments to offer expertise to support the launch, in order to ensure high quality delivery.  The main thing we need to think about however is whether we can provide sites for the work based placements.  T-Levels will help improve our candidate pool and ensure that we have access to improved recruitment in the long term.  To get that however will require us to ensure that students really do get a good idea of what we do and what a job in this great profession could look like.  We can only deliver on this if they get to meet us.

The ask therefore is to reach out to the communities our Trusts support and see if we can strengthen those ties by supporting not just in our remit of health, but also by supporting education via work placements.  The reward for this is not only financial (you will get a payment per student) but also in terms of staff development.  This is a great opportunity for junior members of staff to gain experience in supervision and managing small projects.  It’s a chance for them to get more experience with training, and especially those who are still in training to get their own competencies signed off.

By 2022 the Health and Science T Level will be available for delivery by all providers that want to and meet the criteria. By 2024 it is expected that the vast majority of providers will be delivering this T Level.  This is a great opportunity for our profession to rise to the challenge and help support the development of the next generation of Healthcare Scientists. More information about T-Levels across subjects can be found here.

All opinions on this blog are my own

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