The government should be wary of diminishing the role of awarding organisations in its T-level proposals, argues Julie Hyde, as many already work closely with employers

With Christmas fast approaching, the government has been making announcements left, right and centre – revealing more about plans for post-16 education and skills. It has been an exciting time for organisations across the FE sector, which have been eagerly awaiting these announcements.

It began with the autumn budget, swiftly followed by the industrial strategy white paper, Justine Greening’s speech to the Skills Summit, the T-Level consultation, and now the careers strategy.

Each of these built on the next, fleshing out the plans further.

Licensing one AO will essentially create a monopoly in a sector area

With so many announcements in rapid succession you would be forgiven for failing to keep up, and in many ways this onslaught of information has raised more questions than it has answered.

One aspect that remains constant is that the government’s focus is still clearly on putting employers at the heart of the technical education system, and ensuring that the UK has the skilled workers it needs to create an economy fit for the future. This is an important and welcome ambition, and the Skills Summit and skills partner statement of action that followed it was a clear sign of the importance that the government is placing on this.

The T-level consultation also suggests that the Institute for Apprenticeships’ role is more significant than perhaps expected. It will not only administer T-levels, license awarding organisations (AOs) to deliver and sell them to providers, but the eventual qualification may also be generically branded and will not name the AO.

While we understand the impulse here, and recognise the need to ensure that all qualifications are rigorous and of a high standard, we feel that the government may be diminishing the role of AOs, many of which already work closely with employers to develop courses that will help students succeed in the workplace.

AOs generally know better than most what employers are looking for, and what makes a skilled professional with the occupational competencies to succeed in the workplace.

We feel that the government may be diminishing the role of AOs

Particular qualifications and AOs are also often synonymous with certain sectors, and employers actively seek people with these qualifications. This expertise is important in any technical education system that delivers the skilled workers employers need.

The 15 routes are extremely broad, and there will be a number of different pathways and therefore T-levels within them. Licensing one AO for a procured pathway or bundle of pathways will also potentially lead to a significant loss of sector expertise. The government may already recognise the issue; the consultation already states that AOs can bid as part of a consortium for T-level contracts, but again it remains to be seen how this could work in practice.

Licensing one AO will essentially create a monopoly in a sector area, and without ongoing competition between organisations, standards could fall, ending up with little incentive to innovate. As the recent report by Frontier Economics suggested, having a single AO could ultimately risk system failure.

We look forward to working with the government over the coming months to answer these questions and create a system that achieves its ambition of parity of esteem between academic and vocational education routes.

It is crucial that we get this system right and that it is workable. It is important that the government engages with a range of organisations from across the sector throughout the consultation process. This will ensure that T-levels not only deliver the skilled workforce we need, but that learners can navigate the new system successfully, that awarding organisations can deliver rigorous, effective qualifications, and that providers can deliver them. Ultimately, we must all work together to make a success of them.

The T-levels consultation is open until February 8, and can be found here.

Julie Hyde is associate director of CACHE

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