Choosing awarding organisations in open competition will not only give the new technical qualifications the greatest chance of success, but clarify the landscape for students, promises Anne Milton

I was recently interviewed by Nick at FE Week, who wanted to know why we are planning to use a single licensing approach for T-levels. I thought I’d put my thoughts down here to explain more fully why we have decided to do this.

T-levels are a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way technical education works in this country, putting it on a par with the very best available in other countries. In the past, technical education courses were of variable quality and not always valued by employers. And that’s exactly what we want to change. Single licensing has an important role to play in doing that.

The Sainsbury Report, which was published in 2016, recommended that for each occupation or cluster of occupations, there should be one high-quality qualification for 16-19 year olds that meets employer-set standards. The report also recommended that a single body or consortium should deliver each qualification under an exclusive licence. This would be awarded for a fixed time period following an open competition.

So why did the report recommend this approach and why have we followed the advice? Well, the key reason is that we want to protect the standard of T-levels. T-levels must be high quality and those taking them must know that they represent the gold standard — that’s what introducing T-levels is all about. Making sure all T-levels are of the same exemplary standard also means that they will be valued and easily recognisable by employers.

Of course, procurements are never easy

Awarding organisations (AOs) play a vital role in our education system, and for me there are two key benefits that stand out when it comes to single licensing. By selecting one AO to work on each T-level, it means they will have been successful against other competitors in demonstrating their vision to us, making it a shared vision to give our T-levels the greatest chance of success. Another reason is that we want to make the options as clear as possible for students wanting to do T-levels. With thousands of qualifications at level 3 and below, the current landscape can be confusing for students. We have a chance to change this and a single-licence approach will make choices much easier.

Of course, procurements are never easy – there are always losers and disappointments, and the process can be challenging. But they are often necessary if we want to make sure we are getting the best. So we are being completely open and transparent with the market about how we intend to run this procurement. We held events in June to meet with awarding organisations to talk about our procurement plans, with further activities to come, and we are reflecting on the feedback we have heard from the Federation of Awarding Bodies, the Joint Council for Qualifications and others. We are working hard to think about how we can make the procurement more attractive, create lively competition and make sure we get value for money for the public purse. This approach means we should retain the best elements of the competitive market and still get the stability we need to make sure standards are properly understood and kept up.

We’ll also be putting in place rigorous monitoring arrangements to minimise the risk of failure – and we will make sure there are effective exit arrangements at the end of each licence to enable smooth transfer from one awarding organisation to another.

The Sainsbury Report’s recommendations are now in law – in the form of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 – and we are proud to have followed them.

The single licensing model for T-levels means learners, employers and parents know exactly what they will be getting, and have a clear choice between excellent technical and academic routes. T-levels are a fantastic opportunity for everyone – providers, employers and young people – to get the technical education that they deserve, and the country needs.