The launch of four new flagship T Levels due to begin in September have been delayed due to quality concerns, FE Week understands.
Multiple sources have confirmed that some of the fourth wave of the government’s flagship new qualifications, designed to be technical equivalents to A-levels, are due to be pushed back by education secretary Gillian Keegan today.
Seven T Levels were due to begin from September 2023.
FE Week understands that of those, the three being designed by NCFE – hair, beauty and aesthetics; craft and design; and media broadcast and production – will be delayed by a year.
It is also understood that the catering T Level, being awarded by Highfield, will postponed for two years until 2025.
Pearson’s T Level in legal services is expected to stick to a roll out date of September 2023, as is City and Guilds’ agriculture, land management and production qualification.
A T Level in animal care and management, which City and Guilds secured the contract for, had originally been due to launch in September too, however it was confirmed last year that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education decided to defer that until September 2024 because the content and structure of the qualification needed more work.
A written ministerial statement was released by Keegan shortly after this article was published which confirmed the delays. She said: “T Level technical qualifications will only be approved for delivery where we are sure they are good enough and can be delivered to a high standard.
“As such, there is more work for awarding organisations to do before the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofqual can be clear that these T Levels are capable of meeting the high quality bar required by both organisations to enable them to be taken into delivery, and that will not be possible in time for launch this September.”
The announcement leaves questions over whether the government should also delay its plans to axe overlapping level 3 qualifications like BTECs as a result. However, FE Week understands Keegan is going to stick to the current timetable.
Last week, 360 headteachers and principals signed a letter to the education secretary calling for the cull of BTECs and other applied general qualifications to be postponed by a year, arguing that they did not have sufficient time to ensure “students are on the right courses, or the right staff are in place with the right level of training”.
The DfE has been working to streamline the landscape of level 3 qualifications, working to create a system for 2025 to encourage students to study either A-levels, T Levels or do an apprenticeship post-16.
It warned that qualifications will only continue to be funded if they did not overlap with the T Levels and pass a stricter new approval process.
Former universities minister Jo Johnson earlier this month raised concerns at the pace of change, warning that there was a “clear evidence base that T Levels are not yet ready to take the weight and shoulder the burden that’s being placed on them”.
But Keegan’s ministerial statement confirmed there will be no delay to the defunding timetable. She said: “Qualifications that overlap with the three T Levels moved back to 2024 were already due to have funding removed in 2025 and this will not change; there will still be dual running for one year. We will confirm implications for qualifications that overlap with the Catering T Level when we provide an update on the timetable for introduction.”
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the DfE is “right to ensure only T Levels of high enough quality enter the market”.
But he warned that colleges will be “massively disrupted” by this announcement happening so late in the year”.
He said: “Colleges already had plans in place for how to deliver these now delayed T Levels and have been marketing them to potential learners. Alternative arrangements will now need to be made urgently. DfE must guarantee any providers which are affected have the support they need to ensure no students misses out on learning because of these delays.”
Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies welcomed the delay.
“Far better to get these technical education reforms right, than to try and meet some risky, politically driven timeline,” he said.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive at the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the DfE’s decision to plough ahead with the level 3 defunding timetable is “astounding”.
“It makes sense to delay the roll out of these T levels if there are concerns about quality, but it makes absolutely no sense to press ahead with plans to scrap existing level 3 qualifications in these subjects,” he told FE Week.
“The government’s dogmatic approach to level 3 reform will leave many young people without a viable pathway to higher education or employment. It is still not too late to chart a different course, but that will involve dropping the ‘ministers know best’ approach that has characterised policymaking in this area and starting to listen to the concerns of students, education professionals and employers.”