T Levels: IfATE set to launch health and science relicensing

Providers could be charged higher fees if student numbers are lower than expected

Providers could be charged higher fees if student numbers are lower than expected

23 Jan 2024, 15:13

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The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is gearing up to re-procure for awarding organisations to run the health and science T Levels. 

Pre-procurement documents, seen by FE Week, indicate that a full invitation to tender will be launched by March for the T Levels in health, healthcare science and science, all held currently by NCFE. 

This means the first T Levels that were introduced for teaching, in 2020 and 2021, now all have a timetable for re-procurement. 

The new contracts will feature a new “demand-sensitive” pricing model, which means awarding organisations can charge providers higher fees if learner numbers are lower than expected. 

IfATE commenced procurement for seven T Levels in December for education and early years, construction and digital. Awarding organisations had to indicate their interest in December. Those progressing to the full tender have until mid-March to submit their bids.

This second procurement is for the T Levels in health, healthcare science, and science. 

Forecasted student numbers for the three health and science T Levels will increase by over five times, the Department for Education estimates. Around 1,800 students took the qualifications in 2022. In 2026/27, when the new awarding contracts start, the DfE predicts 10,200 students will sign up, rising to 12,200 by the end of the contract period, 2030/31.

IfATE operates a single-license model for the technical qualifications in each T Level, meaning that one awarding organisation is responsible for updating content and assessment materials, providing training to teachers and provider staff, quality control, and assessing and grading students. 

New contracts will be awarded for five years, with the option for up to three annual extensions, overlapping with level 3 qualification reforms and the development of the Advanced British Standard. 

It’s not yet clear how much these contracts will be worth. Contract values for each T Level are expected when the invitation to tender is released in the next couple of months.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of IfATE, said: “My team has worked closely with awarding bodies and providers in the design of the next round of procurement to make them even more commercially attractive.”

FE Week understands the lower-than-expected student numbers and high development and operating costs have left several awarding organisations barely breaking even on their T Level contracts.

Start dates for teaching of the newly re-licensed T Levels will be staggered. 

Students will be taking new generation 2 T Levels in early years, construction and digital from September 2025, while the health and science T Levels won’t be ready for teaching until September 2026. 

The awarding organisations that currently hold T Level licenses can re-tender, though the generation 2 contracts do make provisions for staff to be transferred under TUPE regulations if a new awarding organisation takes over. Documents also state “there will be a need for constructive collaboration” in the event of an overlap from one T Level license holder to another. 

Interested awarding organisations have been provided with DfE estimates of health and science T Level numbers over the generation 2 contract period. They currently predict 32,400 entrants to the T Level in health over the five years, 9,700 entrants to the T Level in healthcare science and 16,900 to the T Level in science. 

However, if learner numbers don’t reach forecasted levels, providers could be left fitting the bill. 

Generation 2 contracts will feature a new “adaptive pricing model” which will allow awarding organisations to make a “one-off adjustment” to the entry fee it charges providers if the projected number of students increases or decreases over the contract term. This is described as “an adjustment facility for higher learner fees at lower learner numbers.”

The health and science T Levels suffered from well-publicised issues which led to results being regraded in their first year. Various changes have been made to make them fit for purpose.

Ministers are standing firmly behind T Levels despite the prime minister announcing they are set to be replaced by the Advanced British Standard in the next decade. 

Writing for FE Week in October, skills minister Robert Halfon said, “This is not the end of T Levels, which will be the backbone of the new [ABS] qualification. The Advanced British Standard will build on the success of T Levels.”

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One comment

  1. Albert Wright

    The new model for T levels seems to create a monopoly for the organisations that win the licences, which seems to offer the holder a guaranteed profit.

    How can we ensure that the winners are the right companies to hold such monopolies and that the price the Government pays will be fair to both sides?

    How will inflation be handled, will the price paid to the qualification creator be automatically uprated in line with a particular price index?

    Once the monopoly for each sector is awarded it could become a closed shop. What has happened to open competition?

    Will this new model require some sort of Regulator to ensure quality is maintained?