BTECs to T levels – ensuring a smooth transition for SEND students

Designed in conjunction with businesses and employers, T levels are a two-year qualification that students in England can take after GCSEs as an alternative to A levels, other post-16 courses or an apprenticeship. They provide crucial first-hand experience to 16-to-18-year olds that can help them progress in their chosen field.

T levels were only introduced in September 2020, and concerns have been raised about government stopping funding courses such as BTECS before new T levels are ready to replace them.

T levels are also a bit of a minefield for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who had been expecting to take a BTEC following secondary school. Now, they have to adjust and get their head around a whole new type of course. In-depth planning is the key, so how can we enable a smooth transition for SEND students?

A different way of learning

BTECs involve a lot of practical work and include work placements. T levels, on the other hand, are 80% classroom while just 45 days are spent in a work placement.

Research has found that practical learning is better retained by students. It’s particularly good for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and similar conditions because of the clear steps involved in practical tasks. But that doesn’t mean that T levels can’t work for these students.

First, SEND students considering T levels need to thoroughly research what’s involved in these courses.

In the lead-up to choosing a course, extra time should be spent doing in-depth written work in the classroom in preparation for the T level.

Planning extra support

Routine helps students who have learning disabilities and ASD as familiarity reduces anxiety. Jumping from the classroom to a lengthy work placement in a new environment will unsettle some SEND students, and those with physical disabilities may have accessibility needs.

It’s important that extra support is planned for this part of the T level course. This may include arranging suitable transport to and from the placement or visiting the placement several times prior to starting work with them to get used to the building.

To successfully complete a T level, a work placement, coursework and exams are needed. This is a lot for students to manage at once, and it’s worth arranging for extra support from an eLearning tutor. These teachers specialise in teaching students remotely through a combination of online courses, one-to-one sessions, and live streams. They’re also flexible and work can be done anytime, so they’re suitable for students with SEND needs who may need some downtime.

Managing expectations

As T levels are fairly new, they’re currently only available at around 70 educational institutions. The number of courses offered is also limited, although new courses are being launched every year.

As a result, some SEND students may have to travel to do the course they want. Making travel arrangements early is advisable. The student may be entitled to free transport. It’s also advisable to try the journey to check that it’s doable.

2023 was the first year that T level exams were taken. SEND students hoping to get a feel for exams based on historic papers need to be prepared that this will be difficult, and alternative exam preparation needs to be considered.

Many SEND students will have spent years planning to take a BTEC. But now that these are being replaced with T levels, thorough planning and research must be done to ensure that this educational option is the right choice for them.

Read more in Your voice

Your voice in education and early years 

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