Revealed: Education system to be overhauled with new ‘T-levels’ to plug post-Brexit skills gap

Ben Riley-Smith
Chancellor Philip Hammond will unveil a multibillion pound drive to improve technical training - Chris Radburn/PA

The biggest overhaul of post-16 education in 70 years will be announced this week in a multibillion pound drive to improve technical training.

Philip Hammond will unveil “radical” plans to put technical education on an equal footing with academic studies in his Budget on Wednesday.

The current system, where students have to pick from 13,000 different qualifications, will be replaced with just 15 standalone courses.

Teenagers who undertake the technical training, such as courses to become an engineer or builder, will spend 50 per cent longer learning than they do now, equalling 900 hours of teaching a year.

Philp Hammond - Credit: Steve Back/Barcroft Images

The whole drive will be funded by more than £500 million a year agreed by the Treasury once the scheme is up and running.

The reforms, which will see the courses dubbed “T-levels” - the technical version of A-levels, are designed to help ensure the UK economy is “match fit” for Brexit.

Possible titles for the 15 different “T-level” courses include engineering and manufacturing, business and administration, catering and hospitality, construction and social care. 

Investment in education will be one of the central themes of Mr Hammond’s first Budget, according to Treasury sources.

The Chancellor is expected to have an extra £12 billion to play with thanks to the economy growing more quickly than was forecast last autumn.

More money for elderly and disabled care and measures to help small firms that are worst hit by business rate rises are due to be announced.

A crackdown on confusing and misleading small print will also be unveiled, with the terms and conditions used by mobile phone providers and online shops targeted.

More radical reforms are expected to be kept back until the autumn. In future, the annual Budget will be confined to this single fiscal event after the Government decided to abolish the spring budget. 

The Chancellor, who has been in the post for little over six months, is understood to want to keep any unexpected extra money back in case the economy worsens during Brexit negotiations.

Chancellor Philip Hammond - Credit: PA/PA

However, he has revealed his determination to get the UK prepared for life after the EU with a “radical” overhaul of technical education.

The UK is placed 16 out of the world’s 20 developed economies when it comes to how many people have a technical education. 

Mr Hammond is determined to put technical training on the same footing as university education to help boost productivity ahead of Brexit.

A Treasury source said: “Now that we’re leaving Europe, we really need to up our game on this stuff. We cannot wait. We will soon be competing with every other country after Brexit.”

The Chancellor has agreed to fund a plan by Lord Sainsbury, the Cambridge University chancellor and former Sainsbury’s supermarket executive.

Lord Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury said: “The news that the Government is to commit significant investment to the development of technical education should be welcomed by everyone who cares about increasing national prosperity and improving social mobility.

“Targeted investment of this type makes economic sense. Our international competitors recognised long ago that investing in technical education is essential to enhancing national productivity.”

The 16- to 19-year-olds who take the training will be able to get student loans. 

It is hoped the 15 “T-level” courses would be rolled out from 2019 and completed by 2020, by which time the Government would be spending £500 million a year on the drive.

A Treasury source said it is “the most ambitious post-16 education reform since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago”.

The details for exactly how the courses will work will be decided over the coming years.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said he would be working with the Government to design the system, adding that people must have the “confidence, support and opportunities to adapt” in their working life after Brexit.