Ministers have doubled down on a contentious decision to use a single awarding body for each T Level, FE Week can reveal.
Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, told this publication that following discussions about the model, it will be taken forward in the re-procurement for the first wave of the qualifications set to take place this year.
Using a single awarding organisation (AO) per T Level was a recommendation by Lord Sainsbury in his review of technical education, which the Department for Education agreed to take forward. However, its own researchers warned that with no alternative to step in if problems arose with a contracted body, there was a “risk of system failure”.
Exams regulator Ofqual also “advised on the risks related to the single provider model” ahead of their launch.
Last week, education secretary Gillian Keegan announced a one-year delay in the rollout of three T Levels to be offered by awarding body NCFE from September 2023 in hair, beauty and aesthetics, in craft and design, and in media broadcast and production.
Another in catering, being developed by awarding body Highfield, has been delayed to 2025 at the earliest.
Keegan said quality issues needed to be addressed.
Last year, problems with the health and science T Level, also awarded by NCFE, led to results for over 1,000 students being regraded.
During an interview with FE Week at this week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference, Coupland said the idea of using a single body, which differs from the multi-AO policy for A-levels, was to “ensure quality in the system”.
The first T Levels that were launched in 2020 – education and childcare delivered by NCFE, and Pearson’s design, surveying and planning, and digital production, design and development – are up for re-procurement in the coming months.
Coupland told FE Week: “Those contracts are coming up for review again, and that is going to continue to run a single licencing model, following discussions with the department on the policy. They [DfE] want to continue that approach.”
The complexity of T Level design and accountability has come under the spotlight in recent months amid the health and science delays.
Coupland said the delivery system for the flagship qualifications is “complex”.
“We’ve got a range of organisations with responsibilities with different aspects of delivery. So, at IfATE we contract with the awarding organisations, they draft the qualification, Ofqual is the regulator of those awarding organisations, Department for Education has got responsibility for industry placements, and for the workforce elements and providers.
“When you understand the system, you can see all how these organisations have got a specific role to play that plays to their strengths. But for someone looking in, it does look complex.”
Coupland rejected the idea that the number of organisations that have a role to play was a “contributing factor” in last week’s decision to delay some T Levels, or the health and science problems last year. “It was slightly more complex than that,” she said.