London college pulls out of T-levels plans 19 months before launch

A financially troubled college subject to FE Commissioner intervention has decided to withdraw from delivering T-levels, the Department for Education has revealed.

Richmond-upon-Thames College had been selected to deliver all the routes being rolled out as part of the second wave of T-levels in September 2021: digital, construction, education and childcare, and health and science.

Yet today it was announced the college had decided to pull out of the new qualifications to “prioritise the development” of its campus.

This £80 million programme includes a dedicated sixth form centre, a theatre, 3D prototyping laboratory and training restaurant.

A spokesperson said the college is “strongly committed to T-levels” and it will look at introducing the new post-16 technical qualifications “at a later stage rather than in 2021”.

The announcement comes on the same day that the Education and Skills Funding Agency published a notice to improve for Richmond, owing to “declining financial health” and a forecast of a “significant” financial deficit for 2018/19.

It also said there was “weaknesses in leadership and management”.

As previously revealed by FE Week, Richmond’s former principal Robin Ghurbhurun left in July for “personal reasons”, around the same time of a visit from the FE Commissioner amid financial concerns. He has since been replaced by Diane Dimond, a chartered accountant, in the interim.

East Sussex College Group also received a notice to improve today, but the DfE confirmed it will remain as one of the September 2020 T-level providers.

Richmond-upon-Thames isn’t the first provider to have stepped back from T-level delivery.

In October, education secretary Gavin Williamson’s old college, Scarborough Sixth Form, pulled out of offering construction and digital pathways from 2020 because of a lack of opportunities for the T-levels’ mandatory 315-hour work placements locally, and a shortage of good-quality teachers.

Two schools previously ditched plans to take part in the 2020 wave.

A DfE spokesperson said they had always anticipated there would be “a certain amount of fluctuation” in the list of T-level providers, but they have “an excellent group of high-quality providers ready to offer the first three T-levels from this September and from 2021 onwards”.

The department took a phased approach to the introduction of the flagship qualifications “so they can grow in a managed way”, the spokesperson added.

“This approach means that young people, parents and employers can be confident that the courses on offer will be high-quality, will provide the skills students need to progress, and will provide industry with the workforce it needs for the future.”

T-levels in digital, construction and education and childcare sectors are due to be delivered from this September as part of a three-stage approach.

Seven further T-levels in financial, maintenance, installation and repair, design and development, management and administration and human resources will be taught from 2022.

And applications were opened last week for providers to take on wave three of T-levels, to be delivered from 2023, which will include courses in agriculture, environment and animal care, catering and hospitality, creative and media, and hair and beauty.

More than 100 providers have been lined up to teach the two-year courses, which will be equivalent to three A-levels and combine classroom learning with the industry placement.