T Levels: A catalyst for change

At the annual Association of College’s (AoC) annual conference, Paul Kessell-Holland, National Head of Curriculum Design Projects at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), hosted a session on the ETF’s new T Levels Professional Development Programme (TLPD). Here Paul shares an overview of his highlights from the discussion.

In November 2021, I was invited to the AoC’s annual conference to discuss the ETF’s new TLPD Leadership Residential programme.

Delivered by Kings College London and ChangeSchool, the year-long programme is launching in early 2022 and will focus on change management for T Level providers, with the aim to nurture and support them. Over the year, the first cohort of providers will grow into a larger network of leaders and teachers who are united in a common approach to making positive changes within their organisations.

Why is the ETF focusing on change management?

Even before the pandemic, practitioners have had to face plenty of change. The Further Education (FE) sector is in constant flux, from changes to funding and moving governmental priorities, to reforms and staffing challenges.

As a sector, we should be amongst the most change-capable and adaptable in the country. However, as the ETF discovered in the early developmental phase of the TLPD programme, it became apparent from teachers and leaders that change is something tolerated rather than embraced. Initiative fatigue is a powerful demotivator, and many sector changes that have happened in the last few years have either been ‘done to’ staff or were fairly simple to ‘swerve’. We realised that helping the sector to embrace and grow through change would require new thinking and clarity of purpose.

The challenges of providing T Levels

T Levels are a genuine change. The considerable increase in teaching hours, content expectations and industry involvement all create new demands on resource. Staff have pedagogic challenges they have not faced before, employer partnerships need new thought, resourcing and timetabling may need to be transformed, and in addition, many providers are ‘dual running’ qualifications alongside T Levels at first, whilst also transforming their Level 1 and Level 2 provision to help build stronger entry routes into the T Level.

Add this up, and even if only 30 per cent of your learners are doing a T Level, there is considerable work to be done and real change to enact. This workload can’t be avoided, and if it is done ‘to’ staff, all the evidence shows it is unlikely to succeed or the quality will be compromised. As an example, during our session at the AoC Annual Conference, Principal and CEO of Preston College Louise Doswell shared her experience and the change journey her organisation has gone through to deliver the first wave of T Levels. It became more and more apparent to other senior leaders in the room just what the scale of change might need to be.

Supporting T Level providers

In response to this scale of change, the ETF has set out to build a TLPD Leadership Residential programme that is structured to help providers work out what change needs to look like for them, and how to go about reaching their destinations. During the pilot programme, T Level providers will meet with buddy providers, build an internal change team, and will be mentored and supported throughout by the ETF, Kings College and ChangeSchool. Combined with wider Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities and networking across the TLPD landscape, a provider on this programme will have a golden opportunity to learn how best to shift the critical blockers they face, while retaining the excellence and expertise they already have.

Presenting this to a group of principals and T Level providers at the AoC conference was a genuine privilege. Debate and questioning was inevitable, and we held some interesting discussions on the future of BTECs, and the challenge of strategic curriculum planning. However, there was universal agreement in the room that there is a need to support T Level provision in this way, and the proposed ‘top to bottom, side to side’ approach was considered a really powerful development opportunity for staff and their organisations alike. For the attendees who saw T Levels at the heart of their future, the ETF’s TLPD programme was seen as a golden opportunity to be supported whilst making changes to the whole organisation – well beyond the immediate needs of those teaching T Levels, or preparing to do so in future waves. The potential power of a programme like this lies much less in what participants are being taught, but rather in their ability to take what they learn and collaborate together to embed and share it for common benefit.

The future of the new TLPD programme

Even before delivery has started, it feels like this may be a programme that has far-reaching potential for the sector. Spaces are limited, and the programme runs with four cohorts, two starting in early 2022, two in early 2023. Providers, not individuals, need to sign up to take part. We look forward to sharing what has been achieved in the coming months and years.

Paul Kessell-Holland, National Head of Curriculum Design Projects at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF).

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