Opening doors

The hairdressing, barbering and beauty therapy T Level is now set to start in September 2024. What can you expect?

In 2021, then chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak hailed the T level as a ‘revolution’ in education. An A level alternative for 16- to 19-yearolds, the hair and beauty T level will combine classroom and practical learning. A work placement lasting 315 hours, or 45 days, it aims to prepare students for a wide range of career opportunities within the breadth of the hair and beauty sector.

Tackling the perfect storm

T levels will provide an alternative option, which could help to address the skills crisis. Th e NHBF’s 2022 skills crisis report warned that the sector faces ‘a perfect storm’ of problems in terms of qualifications and training, recruitment and retention, and financial pressures.
Apprentice intake has fallen by 4500 since 2017-18, to 7000 in England in 2019-20. If trends continue, there will be fewer than 3400 hair and beauty starters in the UK by 2025, according to the NHBF.

‘The whole sector has changed,’ says NHBF director of quality and standards Caroline Larissey. ‘Businesses have diversified, employment status and working patterns have changed. There’s more self-employment and salons aren’t taking apprentices on – they prefer to recruit people who are already trained.’

In addition, the government has cut funding for apprenticeships in hairdressing and barbering from £9000 to £7000 per head. ‘That’s crippled us,’ says Caroline. ‘Training providers aren’t providing hairdressing and barbering training anymore because it’s not cost-effective.’

Lesley McCormack, managing director of the Michaeljohn Training School Manchester and sector chair at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, says: ‘T levels will be classroom-based learning. They will give students some knowledge, skills and behaviours without making them completely salon-ready.

‘The benefit is that, where there is a shortage of apprentices in certain areas, you might find a T level student.’
Caroline helped develop the T level, and says that while students will have skills, ‘they will not be to commercial timings, and will not have the industry insight of an apprentice’.

Apprentice hair dresser


  • Health and safety regulations
  • Safe working practices
  • The client journey
  • The consultation
  • Sales and marketing
  • Business practices

Work placements

Employers will be able to get involved by offering work placements. These will be flexible, designed by each provider with the employer – you won’t have to offer 315 hours. It could be at the start of the course, midway through, or for students on day release, and there is no fee for employers.

‘It will introduce employers to someone who might become a member of the team, or enable the student to move onto an apprenticeship or further training,’ says Lesley. ‘If they do shampooing, conditioning, blow-drying and retail at the wash station and pass that unit at T level, that makes them skilled in a real working environment.’

People completing the course will have transferable skills, she adds: ‘They could easily work on reception – they should have good customer skills and be good communicators.’

Some employers are not yet convinced. Jessica Williams, owner of Casey Williams salon in Didsbury, Manchester, would give a T level student a placement ‘if they were keen and wanted to learn’ but would rather have an apprentice – while Michael Conroy, owner of Halo Hair & Beauty in Manchester and Cheshire, probably wouldn’t employ somebody who’s done a T level, saying ‘I’ll stick to the apprenticeship.’

There are problems recruiting apprentices though, he adds. ‘Finding good apprentices who are going to stick it out is not easy.
‘T levels will not be sufficient to create an employable young person – they would need to do it as an entry route into an apprenticeship.’

Why it’s important

Caroline says: ‘Any investment by the government to raise standards in colleges has to be a massive improvement, so it’s in the interest of the sector to work with them.’

The 2022 NHBF skills report said ‘the level of education and training coming through colleges is concerning,’ she notes. ‘Employers are saying: we’re getting students and they can’t do anything. They’ve gone through one assessment and only done one type of haircut.
‘Employers will be able to use T level placements to identify young people they want to take on and train further. And technical routes such as T levels are an alternative way to enter the sector.’

Lesley adds: ‘I think T levels are going to be extraordinarily well received in beauty. Because it’s such an intimate service, employers are reluctant to let apprentices be as involved at that service level during Level 2 NVQ.’

Government investment in hair and beauty training is long overdue. Industry leaders hope employers will be able to use work placements to their advantage.



The T level qualification is set at Level 3, equivalent to three A levels – but industry leaders were concerned at the loss of Level 2 NVQs, fearing that, for some students, it might be too big a leap from GCSEs. The NHBF was part of the small panel working on the hairdressing, barbering and beauty therapy qualification and developed the transitional programme in response.

The programme will take a year, covering maths and English, employability skills, attitudes to learning, and what hair, beauty and barbering involves, as well as ensuring students are ready for the T level.

‘The transitional T level is vital,’ says Caroline. ‘It will allow students to look at the industries and get work experience in different environments, so they understand what career they want. Students discover career opportunities and links between hair and beauty and related sectors, such as fashion, retail, sports therapy, and health and fitness.’


  • Nearly 500 providers will offer T levels.
  • The name was updated from ‘hair, beauty and aesthetics’ to ‘hairdressing, barbering and beauty therapy’ to better reflect the occupations.
  • Courses will last two years. Some students will take the one-year transition programme.
  • One T level is equal to three A levels.
  • Industry placements are a key element.
  • Students can progress into work, higher or degree-level apprenticeships or further study, including university.