The first teenagers to take the legal services T-Level, a new vocational alternative to A-Levels, are to start courses this month at half a dozen schools and colleges.
T-Levels are classroom-based two-year courses, for 16-to-19 year-olds, that follow GCSEs and are equivalent to three A-Levels. First launched in 2020, the number of available subjects has increased each year.
Linda Ford, chief executive of CILEX, said she hoped the new qualification, which combines academic work and a work placement of at least 315 hours (equivalent to 45 days), would attract “socially diverse” candidates who might otherwise “rule themselves out of a career in law”.
Last year, training company Pearson won the £3.4m contract to develop the T-Level in association with CILEX.
T-Levels are built from the same employer-defined occupational standards that guide apprenticeships, but are 80% classroom and 20% on-the-job, as opposed to the other way round for apprenticeships.
Ms Ford said T-Levels could either be used by students to get UCAS points for university entry or to gain exemption from modules making up the foundation stage of the CILEX Professional Qualification.
In addition to the core content, each student will also take at least one module of occupation-specific content. The first two are business, finance and employment – which covers tort and contract – and crime, criminal justice and social welfare. A third specialism, private client, will cover both property-related work and wills and probate.
Ms Ford said six further education or sixth-form colleges, or schools with sixth forms, had indicated that they would be teaching T-Level students from September.
She said it would not be clear how many students were taking the course until next year. However, more than 30 schools and colleges have said they would start teaching it from September 2024.
Schools and colleges arrange work placements for T-Level students with legal services providers. The 45-day unpaid placements can be spread over two or three employers.
Ms Ford said that, unlike apprenticeships, employers would not be paying a salary to students but they could claim expenses.
“We hope T-Levels will involve a broader and more socially diverse group of candidates and raise awareness of law as an option for those who might self-select out.
“From a social mobility and achievability point of view, A-Levels are not for everyone. This will help with the drive to bring people from diverse backgrounds into the law.
“We know that traditional careers advisers talk about law as a career option to students with strong academic results. This is a way of making students understand that they don’t need to do law at university.
“It’s not just a pipeline for a single career. There are administrative, paralegal and technology roles.”
Ms Ford said T-Level students were much less demanding for employers than apprentices, while unlike general work experience students, they “had a commitment and had shown an interest in the law” by taking a two-year course.
“Employers are very supportive of schemes that allow them to assess candidates pre-application for jobs to see if they have potential. It’s very much for employers to decide what to offer and how fits with their firm.”
The first three T-Levels – in design, surveying and planning for construction, digital design and production and education and childcare – were launched in September 2020. A further 13 have since gone live, with agriculture, land management and production the other new T-Level from this year.