From education to employment

DfE’s delay on T Level rollout from 2023 to 2024 – Sector Reaction

Gillian Keegan

Today (Thursday 9th March 2023) Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary has released a statement announcing that the rollout of T-Levels in multiple sectors will be delayed from 2023 to 2024.

“Today I am announcing some changes to the rollout timetable of T Levels in England. We have decided to defer first delivery of three T Levels in Hairdressing, Barbering and Beauty Therapy; Craft and Design; and Media, Broadcast and Production from 2023 to 2024.

“We have taken the decision to defer the Catering T Level beyond 2024, to allow time to consult with employers and sector bodies to ensure that this T Level meets all the needs of the sector, and will provide an update on the rollout timetable of this T Level in due course.

“The T Level in Legal Services will be introduced as planned in 2023, alongside the T Level in Agriculture, Land Management and Production which is subject to the usual approval process, and the Animal Care and Management T Level remains on course for first teaching in 2024, and Marketing in 2025.”- Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary.

A link to the education secretary’s written ministerial statement in full can be found here.

Sector Response

David Hughes, AoC Chief Executive said:

“The Department for Education is right to ensure only T Levels of high enough quality enter the market. Sadly, though, colleges will be massively disrupted by this announcement happening so late in the year.

“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 student misses out on learning because of these delays.

“This delay highlights the risks involved in implementing new qualifications and shows why T Levels need to be tested fully before other qualifications are defunded. That requires at least two full cohorts of students to complete each T Level before we can be sure that it is secure and working well.

“We also need to see more engagement of colleges in the establishment and rollout of T Levels. The vast majority of T Level students will study in colleges, so it is vital that DfE, IfATE and awarding organisations work closely with them as key providers to ensure that these new qualifications are fit for purpose and any issues around quality are addressed earlier on in the process.

“T Levels are an important addition to the qualification landscape. Colleges have played and will continue to play a crucial part in their rollout and delivery.”

Prof. Tom Bewick, chief executive, Federation of Awarding Bodies:

“AOs welcome the delayed roll out. For those tasked with delivering T levels the delay provides more time to get this major technical education reform right. And for those AOs whose qualifications are threatened by defunding to eventually make way for these government owned T levels, the announcement provides a welcome stay of execution.

“I hope ministers will now take the opportunity to look afresh at the design of the T level policy, including governance. In my view, it is disingenuous of the education secretary to tell Parliament that the decision to delay is driven solely by ‘quality concerns’, related to providers and AOs who are, after all, the developers and not the accountable bodies for the success of these qualifications.

“It is the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Educaiton who ultimately owns the quality and success of T levels, because of the unprecedented way in which they have decided to procure, control and implement the scheme.

“This week’s decision dates back as far as when the then DfE perm sec, Jonathan Slater, was overruled in a ministerial direction (17 May 2018), when senior civil servants  first raised concerns about delivery timescales and the taxpayer value for money of these reforms. It would seem the perm sec’s advice has come back home to roost. When I talk to people closely involved in T levels, at both AO and provider level, there appears to be a lot of support and professional commitment to making these technical qualifications work in the best interests of learners. They are solid classroom-based qualifications.

“However, I have also discovered the presence of an elephant in the room: that current efficacy, including the design of T level governance, requires a major rethink. The problems run much deeper than just the lack of availability of industry placements in some local areas. Fundamentally, T levels introduce to English secondary education the old idea of a tripartite system of selection at 16.

“It’s not too dissimilar to the rigid system that once existed as a result of the 1944 Education Act, which introduced the selective and controversial 11-plus. In other words, 16-year-olds in future will have to decide which track to pursue: A levels, T levels or Apprenticeships. The main problem with this model is that there is very little awareness amongst parents, employers or learners as to what is really going on.

“The expectation of many is that A levels and other vocational technical qualifications will continue to be offered as part of an integrated ‘mix and match’ approach – both GQ & TQ qualifications. That’s why the protect student choice campaign has attracted such a broad based platform of support. “I would encourage Gillian Keegan to initiate a formal review of T level policy and to seek wider sector and cross-party political support for their continuity and implementation. Because the last thing the country needs is a another false dawn in technical education. We really do need to make these reforms work in the interests of everyone.”

Adam Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer, NCFE said:

“This decision has been made by IfATE and DfE in consultation with NCFE to ensure that these T Levels are delivered to the highest standards and students have the best possible experience on the course. 

“We are confident in the quality of the technical development to date, but agree that by slowing down the roll-out, we can be certain that the T Levels support every student to reach their potential. We will continue to work in partnership with IfATE, DfE and Ofqual to facilitate the long-term success of these qualifications and embed further improvements. “

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  1. For someone who entered the FE sector to create and support opportunities to improve social mobility for our most disadvantaged learners and young people the current and impending T-Level qualifications are disastrous. The T-Level programmes serve to decrease opportunities for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, serving to cap their academic attainment and decrease the opportunity for social mobility. There needs to be other options for those learners who are practically skilled opposed to academically skilled to improve life chances. A – Levels serve those who are academically able already so to remove vocational based courses which are continually assessed and replace with exam bound T-Levels which are all to similar to our A-Level programmes is barbaric. The DfE need to address this and take a serious U-Turn on the T-Level qualifications or at least keep the current vocational qualifications running alongside them to allow for educational attainment and the chance to improve socio-economic status. This is making numerous professionals including myself question whether the education profession is still the right career for them, as the introduction of the T-Levels is an unjust and immoral move which disadvantages so many of our young people.