Raising the value of VET through qualification reform: the Case of English T levels

Rachel Terry, Kevin Orr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Poor quality VET is perceived to contribute to a lack of skilled workers, low productivity, and poor outcomes for individuals and society. Such economic failings are often attributed to the low value of VET, ignoring the equally low standing of many of the occupations VET serves. Raising the value of VET through qualification reform is thus problematic, as it fails to address this wider economic context. The introduction of new post-16 technical qualifications in England provides a pertinent and highly current lens through which to view such attempts at reform. T Levels were conceived as a ‘high-quality technical option’, designed to offer a pathway to employment in specific vocational areas alongside apprenticeships and to rival academic A Levels. This paper offers a critically discursive analysis of key policy documents associated with their implementation, and shows how the claims made for the qualifications’ inherent value exist in tension with their relational status within the English education system. Marx’s concepts of ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’ illuminate this tension and suggest that without reform to other elements of the system, T Levels are unlikely to have an impact on the value of VET.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Vocational Education and Training
Early online date28 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Mar 2024

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