T-levels timescale still ‘worryingly tight’, IfA boss says ahead of technical education takeover

The boss of the organisation that will assume powers for T-levels this week has said the delivery timeline is still “worryingly tight” even though everything is “on schedule”.

Sir Gerry Berragan was quizzed by FE Week on the topic this afternoon, ahead of a change in legislation which will see his organisation become the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education on Thursday.

He stated, nearly one year on since he told an Ofqual conference of his deep concerns at meeting the 2020 delivery timetable, that he still views the deadline as “worryingly tight”.

It is fair to say the timeline is still worryingly tight because there is no real time contingency

But he reiterated what Jonathan Slater, the Department for Education’s permanent secretary, told the education select committee last week: everything is “on track”.

“It is fair to say the timeline is still worryingly tight because there is no real time contingency and any project that is running without any contingency is always going to be tight,” Sir Gerry said.

“The good news is we are absolutely on track and schedule. We’ve taken this by the horns and managed this thing really, really closely.

“We have a detailed plan and mitigated any risks that we can to that schedule but it still remains tight.”

When asked what he sees as the biggest challenge to overcoming the tight T-levels timeline, Sir Gerry said: “From our perspective it is getting the qualifications through the approvals.

“In a broader sense the DfE needs to make sure the colleges delivering T-levels in wave one are in good shape and they have a programme and money to help them do that.

“We’re sharing the content with colleges as it becomes available so that they can get ahead of the game and develop the content into a course.

“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate that tight timeframe but there are still genuine challenges to be overcome but they are all doable.”

One key milestone that the IfA has managed to meet is the controversial £17.5 million procurement process for assigning awarding organisations to each of the first three T-levels, which will cover digital, childcare and education, and construction.

The Federation of Awarding Bodies had threatened legal action against the government because of its tight implementation plans including the procurement, which would almost certainly have delayed the rollout of the new post-16 technical qualifications.

But the body dropped this challenge in August after the DfE offered to “re-set the relationship” with awarding organisations.

The IfA will notify the successful AO bidders over the next week, which will be followed by a 10-day standstill period before an official announcement next month.

A second tender process for the six pathways that are due to be introduced for teaching from 2021 will kick off in spring, with the winning bidders expected to be announced in the autumn.

The IfA has had to bolster its team ahead of assuming powers for technical education.

Sir Gerry told FE Week that the institute has gone from having around 86 staff in the summer to “nearly 150 today”.

It’s been a huge task to get ourselves geared up for this

This number is expected to increase to around 200 by the end of this calendar year, which will be “steady state”.

“We’re clear to go,” Sir Gerry said. “We’ve significantly increased in size and created completely new functions in terms of procurement and contract management, we’ve taken on board the T-level panels from the DfE and the relationship managers that will go with them.

“It’s been a huge task to get ourselves geared up for this.”

To cater for the new staff the IfA’s budget nearly doubled this year, from £8.6 million to £15 million, and is expected to rise to “around £20 million next year”.

Assuming powers for technical education will give the IfA complete authority over the content of T-levels and procurement for awarding organisations.

The institute will also lead on the content for new technical qualifications from levels two to five, once the Department for Education has completed its respective reviews.

The DfE will, however, still hold ultimate responsibility for the policy areas.

You can read more from FE Week’s interview with Sir Gerry in our upcoming edition, which will be published on Friday.