Author Archives: Nicola Charleton

T Levels – can stakeholders join the revolution and keep it real?

By Miranda E Pye, Director

Is it a cliché to suggest that the only constancy in life is change? Perhaps, but it must feel very real from the perspective of the Department for Education. Last October Justine Greening, then Education Secretary, announced the ‘biggest ever overhaul’ of technical education when she announced the first new T levels. Brexit was cited as one of the forces driving this ‘skills revolution’ – it seems the UK will need better technical skills if it is to succeed outside the European Union. Although quite why that should be the case is not clear. Why should we need more technical skills outside the Union than within?

In fact, concern about skills pre-dates Brexit by a long, long way. Employers find it problematic to fill STEM-related roles, and it can be difficult to attract young recruits. 72% of manufacturers fear that they will not be able to find the skills they need for their business – and many of them are not waiting for the government to do something. In 2014 Rolls Royce set itself the target of reaching 6 million people through STEM education programmes and activities by 2020. The long-established Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) identified an ‘unhelpful national stereotyping of engineering’ and, over the last couple of years, proactively invited children and their parents to get involved with key players such as BT and the National Theatre to showcase the wide variety of jobs available within the sector. I might also add that our loose approach to nomenclature is not helping. In Germany an engineer is a high-status occupation and no-one can use the title without meeting stringent regulations. In Britain we call virtually anyone an “engineer”.

Knocking at an open door
Employers are very much behind work experience for young people. We know this not least because they keep telling us! The prestigious Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF) says its members believe that experiencing the world of work is always valuable. Indeed, the T level’s reliance on a challenging 45-60-day work placement suggests that the Government is listening. By mixing academic elements – a rigorous 900 hours of teaching over the two-year programme – with practical experience, the plan is that students will emerge as work-ready, technically-able employees.

When Justine Greening announced the changes, she was supported by a constellation of stellar employers, including EDF, Rolls Royce, Skanska and Morphy Richards. The nation’s largest business organisation – the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – rightly focuses on the potential impact of the work placement which – as with the earlier Diploma project – is a key element in T Levels. Ed Richardson, CBI’s senior policy adviser for skills recently commented: ‘T levels have the potential to be revolutionary, opening up new routes to skilled work.’ The crucial point, though is that the ‘key priorities for firms are delivering sufficient high-quality work placements, ensuring … universal provision in all parts of the country.’ And there, as one of our famous ancestors correctly said, is the rub.

Major challenge
In response to the DfE’s consultation, The Association of Colleges (AOC) highlights employer engagement as a major challenge. They are unequivocal about the prospects for the work-placements: Providing the projected 180,000 work placements is, the AOC has said, impossible.

The very thing that makes the T level exciting and different therefore, is also its sticking point. The success of the qualification is reliant on work placements – and on learning providers’ ability to source and sustain them. Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) puts it simply ‘without the availability of work placements, nothing else counts’. It’s no wonder that some learning providers are daunted by the prospect.

Flexibility and support
In our many conversations with employers, SMEs and sole traders feel particularly challenged by the requirements of the T level work placement. Whilst the Government is right to put the work placement ball back in the employers’ court, it also needs to make sure they have the freedom to make it work. If businesses struggle with an extended work placement, or lack the infrastructure to support it, why not allow a more flexible approach? How about the possibility of a portfolio style work placement? This could involve an embedded work placement tailored to the pathway. It could also mean remote working, or a mixture of shorter placements, undertaken in combination with employability and work skills programmes in college. Learners could use technical master classes, experience gained within in-house commercial facilities, Realistic Working Environments, or employer-led projects or ‘industry Labs’ to become work ready.

Where does this leave the beleaguered learning providers? After all, the uniform approach was a bid to underpin quality and consistency. Surely, they hold the keys to T level success as the lynch-pin in the partnership between Government and employers. With the explicit support of Greening’s successor, Damian Hinds, they should push to capitalise on existing relationships and proven technical resources to join and shape the revolution.

The important factor here is that T level work placements need to meet business needs on the ground. Employers want young people with the right skills, and many of them are willing to invest time and resources to get them. Regardless of the size of the business, employers will be put off by hassle, red tape and a lack of support. If Government can keep the message simple, retain a flexible approach and provide help when needed, they can develop work placements to benefit employers and students alike.

Regulating Food Businesses

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has commissioned Pye Tait to explore the vital subject of how food businesses register or seek approval to operate. Through insights from local authorities and interviews with a wide range of food businesses across the UK, we’ll be exploring barriers faced in the registration/approval processes, additional support needed by businesses, and mechanisms to help maintain a system that works for all.

Computing in UK Schools

How are UK schools coping with the challenge of the computing curriculum? That’s the question The Royal Society set Pye Tait in 2016.

Our survey, case studies and extensive discussions reveal evidence from UK schools on the state of computing education today. This is an especially important topic in England given the mandatory introduction of computational thinking and coding to be taught to pupils from age 5.

Our report now forms part of The Royal Society’s After the Reboot – Computing Education in UK Schools.

Adrian Smith, Project Manager for Pye Tait Consulting, said: “We found that some schools are really embracing the increased focus on computer science and doing very well with the new approach. However, many others have found it very difficult to make that transition and have been holding on to a more traditional Information Technology offer.”

There are wide variations in levels of favourability to the new computing curriculum in England, as well as the amount of financial and non-financial investment in equipment, teaching resources and staff professional development. The Royal Society calls on Government and industry for a substantial increase in funding to expand and provide more professional development.

Developing the Archives Workforce

Archiving is a vital requirement of modern society. Like every other specialism, however, it must continually adapt to new opportunities and challenges, and particularly to the pace of digital change. We are pleased to be working with The National Archives to research and create a new Workforce Development Strategy for the archives sector. It will be designed to foster a flexible, skilled and confident workforce and help provide clarity on career entry, progression and training routes, including the knowledge and skills important both now and in the future.

Good practical science

How do England’s secondary schools and sixth form colleges measure up to Gatsby’s draft benchmarks for ‘Good Practical Science’? The Gatsby Charitable Foundation asked us to find out and to try to understand how senior staff interpret and use the benchmarks.

The survey, of senior contacts and heads of science in schools and colleges, achieved over 400 completions – a solid sample of ten percent of secondary schools in England. The results were supported by twenty in-depth interviews.

All data were comprehensively analysed to determine trends between school types and statistical tests ascertained significance. Our analysis and reporting of the survey constitutes Appendix 4* of Gatsby’s Good Practical Science report.

[*] Appendix 4

The full report and appendices are at:

Employer perceptions of qualifications

Ofqual, the qualifications and examinations regulator, has published Pye Tait’s pilot study report investigating employers’ perceptions, confidence, and use of a range of qualifications and assessments. The first survey of its kind for Ofqual, it helps to increase Ofqual’s understanding of what employers think about the qualifications they use when making decisions about who to hire, which training to invest in, and what business impact they expect to see from staff who achieve those qualifications.

Our approach comprised a telephone and online survey of over 2,000 employers in England, spanning all industry sectors, organisation sizes, and all nine geographic regions. We also carried out 40 depth telephone interviews to obtain more detailed feedback.

Ofqual intends to run further studies to build up a longitudinal view of the extent to which employers have confidence in vocational and technical qualifications.

The final report along with the data annex are available here.

Legal services report published

Opening up internal discussion about next steps for legal services, Associate Director Jennifer Brennan presented the findings at the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB)* knowledge sharing session on 12th July.

The full report on how the provision of legal services is evolving was recently published.

Pye Tait Consulting was commissioned to find out about the range of different approaches used by barristers to deliver legal services, how they receive instructions, and to understand how delivery of legal services may change in the future. The work has provided the BSB with an evidence base to enable them to assess the risks and benefits associated with different approaches used by barristers to deliver legal services.

The research used a mixed-method approach, collecting and analysing primary and secondary sources of qualitative and quantitative data via desk-based research, a consultation workshop, an online survey of organisations involved in delivering or facilitating legal services by barristers, and in-depth telephone interviews.

Our report is available to download here.

(*) The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is the regulator of barristers, their professional practice and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales.

The Heritage Dilemma

By Adrian J O Smith, Research Manager

Have you ever wondered why “heritage” attracts such strong feelings?

It’s essential that we conserve the best of our heritage but what does that actually mean in terms of the degree of preservation?

If we leave out for the moment the very clear need to preserve edifices such as Stonehenge and to protect our rich stock of castles and ancient buildings, there is a more modern battlefield. It centres on the argument about how old a historic building has to be before it is subject to heritage conservation measures and techniques. Perhaps more importantly, what aspects of heritage are we trying to protect?

Rows of Georgian townhouses, for example, benefit from a great deal of preservation across the nation. But – apart from their age – what is it that makes them special? Is it their appearance? Is it the building techniques used to sculpt them? Is it the type of stonework and paint? For some, the answer is ‘everything’, but that would mean preserving the primitive outside privies, barring of toilets and baths, prohibiting central heating, and possibly even ripping out electricity and gas supplies.

And then there is the most important question – “why”?

If the answer is something along the lines of “they are attractive and represent part of our history” then that boils down to two issues. Are we attempting to create a living museum (but with significant compromises) or are we simply trying to preserve a “look and feel of the past”? Notwithstanding the importance of safety, does it make a difference whether we use old or modern materials? If a uPVC replacement window looks like wood why should it not replace wood? If new solar tiles look like slate then is there any real harm in replacing slate? If modern mortars and cements work better than the originals and look the same, why should they not be used? And, if doors and fascia boards etc. can be replaced with thermally-efficient uPVC equivalents which cannot be distinguished from the originals at more than three yards’ distance, then is it OK to use them?

It’s certainly important to avoid any work that could cause long term physical damage to structures, such as damp, and, unless trades people know what they’re doing, the ramifications of getting it wrong can take a long while to appear in older buildings, by which point it could be too late. But as local authority planning resources are becoming increasingly squeezed and household budgets tighten, perhaps we should be thinking more openly about some of these questions.

Postgraduate Master’s and Doctoral Loans

In 2015 we carried out an independent analysis of the Government’s Consultation on Support for Postgraduate Study, which led to the introduction of a publicly funded master’s loan scheme which enables master’s students under 60 to access a loan of up to £10,000 as a contribution towards the cost of their study.

More recently, Pye Tait Consulting has provided independent analysis of public consultation responses on Government proposals to introduce a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan. Our report on this study has been published here. The consultation generated over 300 responses from universities, student bodies, individuals and others, who generally welcomed the postgraduate doctoral loan proposals.

The Government has decided to introduce the loan product on a demand-led basis. It will be for doctoral programmes of up to eight years’ duration. The Department for Education’s full consultation response has been published here.