DfE ploughs on with plans for T-level launch despite coronavirus concerns

The government is driving forward with plans to launch the first three T-levels from September 2020 despite the disruption being caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Last month, FE Week revealed that the awarding bodies designing the qualifications had called on ministers to delay their rollout by a year.

At the time the Department for Education said they were keeping the rollout date “under review”.

But in a sector-wide email sent to training providers and colleges this afternoon, seen by FE Week, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said: “We are aware that the coronavirus will impact those providers due to start delivering the first T-levels from September.

“We are working closely with providers as the situation develops. However, we are continuing to work with all involved to ensure we can continue to roll out the first three T-levels from this September as planned.”

She added that if providers have specific questions or concerns about this “please do flag these with your regional ESFA contact”.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson sent on 19 March, Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick warned that colleges, and therefore the “delivery network”, will be in “crisis management and recovery mode up until the autumn term”.

Similarly, asking employers to provide high-quality industry placements at this time “looks very challenging when you consider that the deep economic shock we are experiencing will pre-occupy company survival plans for at least the next 12 months”.

He added: “Following consultation with our members and, specifically, those awarding organisations that have to date successfully secured licences from you to design these new technical qualifications, I am requesting that you postpone the wave one commencement of three T-Levels in September.”

Fifty providers are signed up to deliver the first three routes – in digital, construction and education – from September 2020.

T-levels were originally meant to commence from September 2019, but former apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton announced in July 2017 that she would delay delivery of the first qualifications by 12 months.

Then, in a ministerial direction in May 2018, the then-education secretary Damian Hinds refused a request by the Department for Education’s permanent secretary Jonathan Slater to delay their start from 2020 to 2021.

The latest calls for a delay follows numerous concerns over the rushed timescales for T-levels.

A study in 2019 by the National Foundation for Educational Research, which conducted interviews with half of the 50 providers that will deliver the first T-levels, found that “extremely tight” delivery timescales, a lack of viable industry placements and limited public transport all threaten a successful rollout.

Detailed information on T-level content, assessment and the industry placement was not scheduled to be available until March – less than six months before teaching commences.

And just last month, this newspaper reported on how the government has embarked on a very last-minute mission to find out if students could fail to secure the mandatory T-level industry placement.