Hinds hits back at awarding organisations' ‘deeply disappointing’ T-levels legal challenge

The education secretary has hit back at the Federation of Awarding Bodies “deeply disappointing” threat of a judicial review of T-levels, warning that it could “disrupt” their rollout.

Damian Hinds vowed to press ahead with the new technical qualifications as planned, and said the proposed legal action was “unnecessary”.

He told awarding organisations to “focus their energies” instead on making them a success.

It comes after the FAB wrote to the Department for Education and Institute for Apprenticeships on Wednesday, outlining the grounds upon which it intends to launch a judicial review.

I am deeply disappointed that this organisation is taking this action

These include: irrational (timescales), unreasonable (lack of proper engagement on the single-provider model) and unfair (has a disproportionate impact on the awarding sector).

The T-levels timetable of a 2020 rollout is already seen as extremely tight, and any legal action is bound to cause a delay.

Hitting back at the threat of a judicial review, Mr Hinds said: “With a rapidly changing world and a big productivity challenge, we have a pressing need to raise our game on technical education.

“This needs to be a shared endeavour across the world of education, government and business. I am deeply disappointed that this organisation is taking this action, which could ultimately disrupt this vital work.

“The trade body involved does not like the idea of a single awarding body in each subject. But this arrangement was central to the Sainsbury plan that is the blueprint for our technical and vocational reforms, and is key to upholding quality.

“We have been clear since 2016 that this would be the model and it is the right thing to do.”

He added that the DfE is “pressing on” with T-levels, because “we owe it to young people in England to give them a technical education to rival that in Germany or Holland or Switzerland”.

“I urge the Federation of Awarding Bodies to pull back from this unnecessary action and instead focus their energies on making technical education better for the sake of the next generation,” he concluded.

I urge the Federation of Awarding Bodies to pull back from this unnecessary action

The IfA, which will ultimately become responsible for T-levels next year, said it is giving FAB’s letter “full consideration and will respond in due course”.

“We encourage FAB, and other interested parties, to engage with the market testing of the draft invitation to tender which will be available week commencing 23 July 2018,” a spokesperson added.

The proposed legal action comes after FAB chief executive Tom Bewick first revealed to FE Week that the organisation was considering a challenge following market engagement events with the DfE last month, which left awarding organisations fuming over the commercial terms to which they will have to agree.

“It is highly regrettable that we feel the need to take these steps,” said Paul Eeles, the chair of the FAB board, in his letter to government. “It seems the government is simply not willing to listen to a chorus of concerns about its T-level implementation plans.

“We can’t afford a rushed process that could result in a whole generation of people being let down in the same way that those who took 14-19 diplomas were prior to 2010.”

The legal battle has been launched in a whirlwind week for T-levels, after skills minister Anne Milton made the national papers by admitting that as a parent she would tell her children to “leave it a year” before studying a brand new qualification like T-levels.

It all follows a rare ministerial direction from the education secretary in May, when Damian Hinds refused his own permanent secretary’s request to delay the initial rollout of T-levels until 2021.