T-level full roll-out delayed until 2023, DfE confirms

The full roll-out of T-levels has been delayed until September 2023 after concerns were raised about the planned pace of the scheme.

However, the T-level pilot, which will involve up to 52 colleges delivering courses in digital (digital production, design and development), childcare and education and construction (design, surveying and planning), will still begin from September 2020, after it was delayed by 12 months last year.

T-levels development will be overseen by the Institute of Apprenticeships (IfA), who describe them as the “Government’s new two-year, technical study programmes available across 11 industry routes…one of the three major options available to students aged 16 – 19, alongside apprenticeships and A levels.”

The 12 month extension to implementation schedule means the government is now expecting the phased introduction of the new qualifications to take four years, as opposed to the three years originally planned.

The delay was revealed in the Department for Education’s response to the T-level consultation, published today, which said that some respondents including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had “raised concerns about the capacity of the system to respond to this pace of roll-out.

“We recognise these concerns. Our priority is to deliver high quality programmes and therefore we have decided to extend the full roll-out of T-levels beyond 2022.”

A spokesperson for the DfE confirmed it had been pushed back by 12 months. She said: “We are extending the further roll-out of T-levels to September 2023. This is in direct response to the feedback we received.”

Neil Carberry, the CBI’s managing director of people and infrastructure, told FE Week that T-levels “have the potential to be game-changing, but only if the quality is right.

“Extending the roll-out shows the DfE are focused on not making the type of design errors that have afflicted the apprenticeship levy,” he added.

Graham Razey, principal and chief executive at East Kent College, said T-levels were a “fantastic opportunity to bring parity of esteem to technical education” but warned that “we must not waste it”.

“If this delay allows for a more effective implementation and roll-out I am supportive, but we cannot have unnecessary delay in introducing this much needed reform.”

In March, Sir Gerry Berragan, chief executive of the IfA, warned the timeline for delivering the initial three pathways in 2020 was “worryingly tight”.

And in a widely criticised move, the IfA has begun to consult on the content for the first T-levels with just five working days to reply.

However, it was revealed last week that Damian Hinds, the education secretary, had refused a request from his permanent secretary to delay the pilot until 2021.

In a letter published on Thursday, Jonathan Slater asked Hinds to push the pilot back, warning that “it will clearly be very challenging to ensure that the first three T-levels are ready to be taught from 2020 and beyond to a consistently high standard”.

However, Hinds insisted he was “convinced of the case to press ahead” and told Slater: “I want us now to put all of our collective weight behind delivering these T-levels to begin in 2020.”

Ian Pryce, principal and chief executive of Bedford College, said he has previously been “critical of the way the DfE has rushed change” but Slater’s request for more time “suggests lessons have been learned”.

“I would support a more leisurely, measured rollout. Big initiatives usually stand or fall on their initial success or failure, so caution is a good thing.”