The awarding bodies designing the first three T-levels have called on the government to delay their rollout by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, FE Week can reveal.

Pearson and NCFE have agreed with the Federation of Awarding Bodies that their launch should be combined with wave two and begin in September 2021 instead of 2020.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, FAB 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 AOs 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.

In response to the letter, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said: “We recognise the impact the Covid-19 outbreak will have on T-level providers.

“We are continuing to keep this under review, working closely with providers, as the situation develops and we will provide an update as soon as we possibly can.”

Bewick’s letter also stressed the need for urgent guidance on how apprentice end-point assessments will continue, following Williamson’s announcement yesterday that this year’s GCSE and A-level exams would not go ahead as planned.

“It is critical therefore that all external quality assurance providers and end-point assessment organisations are issued with the agreed guidance as soon as possible so that they can begin to put in place the mitigating measures that can ensure apprentices can continue to be independently assessed for occupational competence,” he said.

“Any further delay of this Guidance is putting in jeopardy the ongoing employment status of apprentices who may unfortunately find themselves being made redundant.”

He also called for the government’s review of qualifications at level 3 and below be put back by one academic year to “provide some much-needed stability in the post-16 sector”.

And in terms of apprenticeship jobs, Bewick warned: “We know from previous economic downturns that training is often the first expenditure item that firms will cut.”

So government should “protect apprentice lay-offs at this time, for 6 months, by using powers in the emergency legislation to prevent firms doing this”.

“In return, employers would receive a percentage towards wage compensation measures, in addition to a temporary national insurance holiday,” he added.

“These measures would have the impact of underwriting employer confidence in the apprenticeship system and ensure that small businesses, in particular, continued to want to take on apprentices.

“If we don’t take bold action like this, apprentice numbers will fall off a cliff and lay-offs will continue over the coming weeks.”

You can read the letter in full here.

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