DfE begins T-level tender process for single awarding organisations

The controversial tender process for T-levels’ awarding organisations has been launched, and will begin with two “market engagement” events next month.

The government is ploughing ahead with its contentious plans to use just one AO per qualification, as per Lord Sainsbury’s recommendation in his review of technical education, despite high-profile concerns.

On Friday, the Department for Education launched the first part of the process to recruit the organisations by publishing an “open early engagement”.

It tells potential AOs that two market engagement events will be held on June 11 and 14.

The Sainsbury Report, which paved the way for the new T-levels, recommended that a single body or consortium should “deliver each qualification under an ‘exclusive licence’ that would be awarded for a fixed time-period following open competition”.

The purpose of the procurement will be to “select and appoint an awarding organisation to be responsible for developing and delivering each of the wave one T-levels, under an exclusive licensing approach”.

An AO will be responsible for designing the content of the qualification, upskilling providers, providing learning and teaching materials, updating content and assessing qualifications.

There will be three individual tenders launched in the autumn – one for each pathway expected to be delivered from 2020, which includes digital (production, design and development), childcare and education, and construction (design, surveying and planning).

On Sunday, the DfE said it recognised “concerns” that issuing a licence to only one awarding organisation could “reduce market competition, choice and innovation”.

A licence period of “about five years” is considered “appropriate in order to ensure consistency but prevent the risk of complacency”.

“However, there was concern about awarding organisations’ ability to retain capability in a sector in which it is not working for the length of the licence period,” it added in its response to the recent consultation on T-levels.

“We will make sure that there are effective exit arrangements at the end of each licence to enable licences to transfer smoothly from one AO to another.”

The DfE “understands” there are concerns about the “resources needed to bid” for T-level licences “without any guarantee of success”, so it will consider a “contribution to the development costs”.

The single-provider model is a controversial component of T-levels, and fears were first raised in July.

Research conducted by Frontier Economics on behalf of the DfE concluded that limiting access to a single AO may create a “risk of system failure” both in the short- and long-term.

It warned that if a single AO fails, it may be that no alternative AO can step in.

Then in February, Ofqual, the body that regulates qualifications in England, said it “advised on the risks related to the single provider model”.