Wednesday, 8 March 2017


This week, the UK government announced that there would be a major change to the state education system at age 18+. At first, I wondered if that would affect us by making changes to A-levels, but the focus is to be solely on technical and vocational education. The proposed new assessments are provisionally called T-levels (presumably T for Technical).

In a long career (44 years this September!) I have worked in both academic and vocational education establishments around the world. Obviously, at KY we are firmly in the former camp, but in many schools in Britain, such as the one both of my sons attended, it was perfectly acceptable to take a mixture of A-levels and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) which I presume the T-levels will replace. NVQs were, and as far as I know, still are, available at various levels. Level 3 was considered the equivalent of an A-level, Level 5 a first degree and Level 7 a postgraduate degree, such as an MBA.

In the case of my boys, they did two academic subjects at A-level and one NVQ. This was perfectly acceptable via UCAS for them to apply to university. However, NVQs in that format, have never been offered overseas. My question to the Department of Education and Skills in London is, therefore, will the T-levels be available and if so, how will that work?

For example, we have many students at KY who wish to pursue a career in Engineering. A typical current subject combination would include Physics, Maths and Further Maths, with a variety of options for the fourth subject. Imagine if that fourth option could be a T-level in Electronics or something similar. The possibilities are quite intriguing.

Of course, none of this will affect anyone currently at the college or indeed probably for the next two or three intakes. Changes such as these are introduced over time and gradually at that. Nonetheless, it is as well for us to be thinking about such possibilities from the very start - in that way we are never caught unprepared.

Thinking about Voc. Ed., as vocational education is more familiarly known, made me aware of how it has all too often been unfairly compared with academic study. The fact that the NVQ levels were meant to be exact equivalents of their academic counterparts is seldom seen in practice. There was (and probably still is) an element of snobbery attached to the difference - that a first degree is somehow "better" or more prestigious than an NVQ Level 5.

This is a shame for many reasons. Firstly, it discourages young people from considering the Voc. Ed. option, when it might actually suit them very well. Then there is the distinct impression in some countries nowadays that if you aren't a graduate, you won't amount to anything. When I went to university in 1970, only about 10% of secondary school graduates did so. Today that figure has more than tripled, but graduate unemployment in the UK and I suspect in many other countries too, is at an all-time high. A modern, successful society needs highly competent technicians as much as it needs academics: without them, the very nature of that society is threatened.

KY is an outstanding academic college and it is most unlikely that we will ever offer Voc. Ed. courses alongside A-levels. However, it is important to remember that in its own way, Voc. Ed. has an equally valuable role to play, both for Malaysia and the world.


  1. This is certainly food for thought, Dr Paul, and in discussing the direction KYUEM might take in the future, the technical/vocational path might be an interesting one to follow; Dato' Richard Small.

  2. Thanks, Dato' Richard. Much appreciated.