Heather Venis, Principal Consultant, Awarding First

Something that awarding bodies are increasingly good at is listening to and understanding employers, knowing their sectors, what will work and what’s deliverable. The listening, conceptualising and doing a good design job on qualifications with valid content is a skill-set many awarding bodies can claim.

Not so the DfE. In the recent T levels consultation they have prescribed the design, assessment methods, a substantial work placement of 45-60 days, an ‘employer reference’ and grading for a pass standard as part of the requirement. They have even designed the certificate! All without having a clue what the content looks like. It’s an unlikely way to work. Even Ofqual’s response on the consultation make the point that content needs to be sufficiently defined before assessment and qualification design.

This when DfE are trying to close down the involvement of awarding bodies because they believe they are the reason for poor quality in qualifications and the ‘race to the bottom’ in vocational learning.

The proposals from DfE are naive and hazardous for the future of young people and employers.

T Level Panels have a mammoth job if they are to come up with content and to construct something that will be meaningful, interesting and challenging for students in their occupational area. Having to fit in with this pre-conceived straight jacket design brief must be an uncomfortable place to be.  Let’s hope they will push back and that the T Levels consultation response supports that objective too.

The assessment methods for T Levels also do not naturally suit those who choose the vocational, rather than academic route. 

Exams are scary for anyone. However, course work, portfolios, observations and all those components associated with competence assessment are more suited to this group of students. Allowing them to show their skills off. We need to support good, valid assessment that allow student to show off. Also, the DfE proposal talk about threshold competence, whatever that means?  Employers are only interested in competence in the technical/vocational area as far as it can be established, not ‘almost there’. 

Then there is the challenge of how providers might deliver this complex package. Part of regulated awarding body constraints is to have to evaluate and judge provider’s ability to deliver the product, ever before they are developed or might be introduced. As the DfE design stands the ability of providers - colleges or training centre - to have the capacity to manage the complexity of the T Level is questionable. There are too many elements and too many stakeholders to manage as part of T Level proposals for the qualifications to be manageable.

The T Level proposals being consulted on are full of school-boy/girl errors.

Our awarding body sector have been chastised for offering poor, ill-fitting qualifications, misunderstood products. But if employers are now to be led by a centralised Government strategy and policy at the very least DfE need to involve and get some advice and guidance from the awarding sector about designing qualification products, assessment, standards and prescribing learning content and how it might be delivered.

DfE also suggest a ‘kitemark’ gong for employers who participate in the workplace element. In the real world providing a value-added service has to be based upon providing a decent base line proven product. It’s a basic concept. Again, DfE are premature in their thinking and confidence in their proposals.

Getting employers to engage in a scheme where students are not likely to provide any real or on-going input or value to their operations would seem unlikely.

Particularly at a time when employers are being asked, evaluating and under pressure to be involved or contribute to apprenticeships.   

Finally, the idea of a single Awarding body for each route is a madness.

The ability and risks around a single body to oversee the quality assurance for delivery, including oversight of work placements and to provide external assessment just doesn’t scan. The potential volumes, security and integrity issues, ability to deliver on that scale and capability to carry out standardisation to check that assessments meet the same standard. It is unrealistic. There are 4 ‘A’ Level bodies, so why only one technical/vocational body?

There are already some Government Policy U turns. In agreeing qualifications may need to be a part of Apprenticeship Standards. Let’s hope for more U turns and that policy is determined by reality and not by a centralised and ill-informed approach in this crucial area.

Let’s hope that DfE smell the coffee on T levels.

Heather Venis, Principal Consultant, Awarding First

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