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'It's been a really enriching experience for staff': Claire Chilton, Longsands Academy

Longsands Academy started delivering the Digital Production, Design and Development T Level in September 2023. Claire Chilton, Head of Department for Computer Science, explains how Longsands prepared for T Level delivery using the T Level Professional Development offer, which is delivered by 51ԹϹ (51ԹϹ) and funded by the Department for Education.

Claire Chilton, Head of Department for Computer Science at Longsands Academy, sits at her desk in front a laptop, smiling at the camera.

How did you make the decision to start delivering T Levels? 

We started thinking about T Level delivery in early-to-mid 2021 as we considered the upcoming landscape and outlook for key stage five. We engaged with 51ԹϹ early on when deciding which subjects we would offer. Computing was a particularly strong area because we had delivered BTECs and the A level, and we already had some good employer engagement with several local technology companies, particularly MASS plc.  

It was important for us to get the school community on board at that stage. We accessed the Understanding T Levels courses available via the T Level Professional Development (TLPD) offer to help wider staff understand the course. That was a crucial step in making sure T Levels were right for the school. 

Which parts of the T Level Professional Development offer have you found most useful? 

The keeping in touch meetings with our Area Relationship Development Lead (ARDL) have been so useful to make sure we’re doing the right things at the right time. When we started planning, we went through the Organisational Training Needs Analysis (OTNA), which helped us identify where our training gaps were. This was something we did even before looking at the curriculum – it was another helpful step to understand how equipped we were to deliver T Levels. 

Industry Insights placements, which have enabled staff to get industry experience, are a part of the TLPD offer that teaching staff have particularly enjoyed. Some of us have worked in industry before, but some haven’t. Getting those experiences and building those industry connections has offered great personal development for staff and it’s been a really enriching experience. Having real-world connections means we bring back into the classroom an understanding of why we are teaching certain things, and where those skills will take students in the future. And the benefits of industry knowledge and connections go beyond our teaching of T Levels, extending to other parts of the school and other parts of the curriculum too. 

What advice would you give to other schools and providers starting this journey? 

It’s all about communication. You can’t afford to leave any stakeholders out. That includes staff across your organisation, students, parents, and local businesses. I’m always looking for opportunities for promotion through open evenings and business networking events. Even just inviting businesses in to deliver a seminar to students will start opening doors and building links.  

The rewards of strong business relationships are huge. For us, MASS has helped fund the transformation of a classroom into a computing lab, giving our students an excellent environment for learning. Working closely with employers also means we’re more involved in the progression of the students after T Levels, helping them go on to jobs and apprenticeships for example – and that’s incredibly rewarding. It’s part of why I love teaching T Levels. 

For more information about the T Level Professional Development (TLPD) offer, visit the TLPD webpage.