First T Level cohort follow-up shows positive progression

By Suzanne Straw, Research Director

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Suzanne Straw, NFER Research DirectorA recent report of the Technical Education Learner Survey (TELS) indicates positive progression of the first T Level cohort, who completed Digital, Construction, and Education and Early Years programmes in July 2022 [1].

The report was completed by NatCen and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE). In this article, we discuss the report’s key findings and look at some of the challenges which remain.

Almost all of the T Level learners surveyed were in education or employment

Almost all (93 per cent) of the first cohort to complete T Levels who completed the follow-up survey were in education, employment or on an apprenticeship. The most common destinations were a university degree (44 per cent), paid work (40 per cent) and an apprenticeship (13 per cent) [2]. Although we need to be cautious in comparing the survey sample [3] with national statistics of all learners, this seems promising when making comparisons with the destinations of all Level 3 learners completing their 16-18 study in 2020/21, which showed that 89 per cent were in sustained education, apprenticeship or employment. Of these, 54 per cent were in higher education, 23 per cent in employment, 5 per cent on apprenticeships and 7 per cent in further/other education [4].

Destinations of T Level completers varied by route, with over two-thirds of Construction learners surveyed progressing onto paid work or an apprenticeship, just over half of Digital learners studying for a degree or another course, and Education and Early Years learners being fairly evenly split between a degree and paid work. A recent Gatsby report provides examples of the job roles and higher education courses that learners have progressed onto.

Around three-quarters of T Level learners on apprenticeships had progressed upwards onto a higher or degree apprenticeship. Although the number of T Level learners on apprenticeships is very small and we should be cautious in our interpretation, the proportion moving onto higher and degree apprenticeships is much higher than the rate for all Level 3 learners. For example, in 2020/21, around a quarter of Level 3 learners moving onto apprenticeships secured places at these higher levels [5].  

There were very few T Level completers surveyed who were not currently in education, employment or training (NEET) (7 per cent), most of whom were looking for work or an apprenticeship (3 per cent) and taking a gap year (2 per cent).

A small proportion of surveyed learners had left their programmes early (14 per cent), and the vast majority of these learners (90 per cent) were now in education or employment/an apprenticeship. Around three-quarters of early leavers were in employment or an apprenticeship (58 per cent and 18 per cent respectively). However, six out of ten had moved away from their T Level field.

Most T Level completers remained in their T Level subject and were satisfied by their current situation

In contrast to early leavers, it is encouraging to note the high retention of surveyed T Level completers within their T Level subject (three-quarters), with over half staying with their occupational specialism. In addition, almost three-quarters of completers were satisfied by their current situation.

Learners reflected positively on their T Level experiences

Learners taking part in the TELS reflected positively on their T Level experience, with about four-fifths agreeing that it had allowed them to progress to what they want to do and helped prepare them for their current study or workplace, and their future career.

The experience of a real workplace through the industry placement was perceived to be key to supporting learners’  progression generally. In addition, 30 per cent of completers in work or on an apprenticeship had been employed by their placement organisation.

The development of technical knowledge and practical skills was also important in supporting learners’ progression. In particular, skills acquired during T Levels were being used ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’ by around 70 per cent of completers who were studying and 57 per cent of those who were working. 

Due to their positive experience, around three-quarters of the first T Level cohort were ‘very’ or ‘quite likely’ to recommend their programme to others.

However, T Level learners make up a small proportion of the 16/17 year old cohort

To put these findings in context, it is worth noting that the first T Level cohort only comprised 0.1 per cent of the full 16/17 year olds cohort [6]. Even with expansion to just over 16,000 T Level learners starting in September 2023, these learners are only likely to represent a few per cent of their cohort.

Challenges in access and retention remain

Moreover, issues around access and retention on T Levels remain.

Providers’ requirements for learners to have achieved GCSE maths and English grade 4+  can be a barrier to student access, particularly for disadvantaged learners [7], as can the size and demands of T Levels and their degree of specialisation. In addition, the proportion of 16 year olds on T Levels who are being retained and assessed on the qualification (68 per cent) is lower than that of large vocational and technical qualifications and A Levels (75 per cent and 88 per cent respectively) [8].

In the T Level Action Plan 2023 to 2024, the DfE has set out a range of actions to increase T Level access and retention. This includes raising awareness through the new Skills for Life “It all starts with skills” campaign; monitoring retention, working closely with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) and awarding organisations; and T Level route-by-route reviews.


The positive destinations of the first cohort of T Level completers are a cause for optimism and testament to the hard work of the first T Level providers, all of whom were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. However, there is some way to go in increasing access to, and improving retention on, these programmes. It will also be interesting to continue to track learners’ progression and their perceptions as learner numbers increase.  

Additional notes

[1] The report presents the findings of a post-course follow-up nine months after learners completed their T Level programme. 477 learners responded to the survey (36 per cent response rate).

[2] This was a multiple response option so sums to more than 93% as a learner could be working and studying.

[3] Note that the 36 per cent of T Level learners who responded to the survey may not be representative of all cohort 1 T Level learners.


[4] Explore Education Statistics

[5] Explore Education Statistics

[6] Explore Education Statistics

[7] In 2022/23, 65.1 per cent of KS4 students achieved GCSE maths and English grade 4+ but the pass rate was 43.4 per cent for disadvantaged students: Explore Education Statistics.

[8] T Level Action Plan: Analytical annex: Data for second cohort of T Level learners starting in September 2021 and vocational/technical and A Level counterparts. In making comparisons, we need to take account of the early stage of T Levels and the issues faced with year 1 of the Health T Level.