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Daniel takes on T-Levels

With his passion for science and working practically, Daniel knew taking a T-Level was the right choice for him.

Ever since he was young, Daniel (18) has always enjoyed practical hobbies and working with his hands. “I made this yesterday, it took me the best part of a day,” he says as he proudly shows off his latest woodwork creation – an archery target crafted from scrap wood from his local DIY store.

For Daniel, who is mildly to moderately deaf and uses hearing aids and a ConnectClip streamer, his love of all things practical was sparked in secondary school, in his science and design technology (DT) classes.

“I liked those subjects because you got to use equipment that you’d never used before,” he says. “Once I represented my school at the local Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Olympics. We went to another school and did loads of STEM activities, like code breaking and powering a boat with solar power.”

Experiences like these helped Daniel realise he wanted to pursue a career that would let him use his problem-solving and practical skills. But when it came to next steps after GCSEs, he wasn’t initially sure what to do.

“At first, I was looking at a carpentry course at college,” he explains. “But they didn’t have any tutors for it. I also looked at a warehouse apprenticeship, but I thought it would be too loud with all the machinery and forklifts.”

Chatting with a tutor at a college open day, Daniel learned all about T-Levels – a new vocational qualification with courses beginning in 2020. Taking a T-Level allows students to study a practical subject in depth over two years, with a mix of college-based learning and industry work placements. Excited by the possibility of focusing on a subject he loved while getting real-world experience, Daniel became one of the first people in the UK to begin a T-Level in Laboratory Science.

“If I’d stayed in sixth form and done A-levels, I’d only really have wanted to do the science ones,” Daniel says. “But I wouldn’t have been able to do just that. One T-Level is equivalent to three A-levels so I get to focus on what I want to do. It works out better in the long run for me.”

Since starting college 18 months ago, Daniel has thrown himself into his course. As well as studying the theory of chemistry, biology and physics, he gets to perform practical experiments and learn how different scientific techniques are used in an industrial setting.

“We do practicals that you wouldn’t get to do at GCSE level,” he says. “We’ve done distillation of oils and blood smears – we got to actually prick our own blood and test it! We also learn about ethics, health and safety, and data handling.

“You get lots of transferable skills too, like using the Harvard system for referencing and IT skills such as making spreadsheets and presentations.”

Daniel has also really enjoyed seeing science used in the real world on his trips to places like a thermal power station, a DNA testing laboratory, and the laboratories at his local hospital.

As part of his course, he also gets the chance to do placements in working laboratories. His first-year placement was as a lab technician at a secondary school, setting up practical activities for the pupils and taking care of the colony of plants used for experiments on photosynthesis.

“It was a different experience because when you’re at school, you can’t go into the prep room,” says Daniel. “I didn’t realise what technicians do. It was good to see the school classroom from a different perspective.”

Daniel is now looking forward to his next placement – working in a hospital’s medical testing lab.

Although there have been many positives on his course, Daniel has also faced barriers caused by a lack of deaf awareness. This was particularly challenging at the start of his studies, when a surge in Covid-19 cases led to more precautions in the classroom.

“We all had to wear masks, so I literally couldn’t hear anything,” he says. “In my old school, all the teachers that dealt with me were given clear masks, but at college they weren’t.

“We still have these clear screens that go down the middle of the benches and I can’t hear anyone on the other side of the screen.”

While things started to get better once Covid-19 measures eased, Daniel has still found some problems with deaf awareness. “I did email my tutors to ask if they can put captions on any videos,” he explains. “One always remembers but others sometimes forget.

“I didn’t know I could get a fire pager in college until about a month in. I found out about it in a leaflet. It’s a little thing that sits on your belt and alerts you if the fire alarm goes off, so it’s pretty important.

“On my placement, communication was a bit better because I only worked with one other person and we were sat right next to each other. But when I went out of the prep room and interacted with students and teachers, that was a bit harder.”

Despite these challenges, Daniel is excited to pursue a career in laboratory science. He’s still considering which branch to specialise in but is particularly interested in microbiology, incident response and forensics.

“I like the idea of being a forensic scientist because you use skills you wouldn’t use in any other science setting,” he explains. “You have to work under pressure and be really analytical and scrutinise everything.”

Spring 2023 Families magazine