From education to employment

The Federation of Awarding Bodies launches a judicial review of the Government’s T-Level implementation plans

Paul Eeles, the Chair of FAB’s Board

The Federation of Awarding Bodies has formally written to the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships proposing to launch a legal challenge to the Government’s flagship T-Level programme.

damian hinds100x100Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

With a rapidly changing world and a big productivity challenge, we have a pressing need to raise our game on technical education. This needs to be a shared endeavour across the world of education, government and business. I am deeply disappointed that this organisation is taking this action, which could ultimately disrupt this vital work.

The trade body involved does not like the idea of a single awarding body in each subject. But this arrangement was central to the Sainsbury plan that is the blueprint for our technical and vocational reforms, and is key to upholding quality. We have been clear since 2016 that this would be the model and it is the right thing to do.

We are pressing on with T Levels, because we owe it to young people in England to give them a technical education to rival that in Germany or Holland or Switzerland; and I urge the Federation of Awarding Bodies to pull back from this unnecessary action and instead focus their energies on making technical education better for the sake of the next generation.

The plans to overhaul England’s technical education system have been mired in controversy since the publication of the post-16 skills plan.

The Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education has himself taken the unusual step of publicly warning Ministers that a rushed timescale for T-Level implementation presents a significant risk to the success of the reforms overall.

Following the board’s unanimous decision to send a letter before action in anticipation of legal proceedings,

Paul Eeles, the Chair of FAB’s Board said:

“It is highly regrettable that we feel the need to take these steps. It seems the government is simply not willing to listen to a chorus of concerns about its T-Level implementation plans.

“Ultimately, our concerns come down to the future job prospects of the 30,000 learners that will be invited to enrol in the first wave of the T-Level programme. We can’t afford a rushed process that could result in a whole generation of people being let down in the same way that those who took 14-19 Diplomas were prior to 2010.

“Of course, we are four-square behind the government in wanting to introduce a genuinely world-class technical qualification. But the desire to meet a politically driven timescale of September 2020 should not come at the expense of the capacity of the education and awarding system to respond adequately.

“It is clear from the alarm bells raised by our members and other voices in the sector that the government needs to explain more clearly the risks it has entered into as a result of taking a lot of other sensible options off the table.

“The proposed judicial review will help the sector and the wider public come to a more informed view about whether in fact the government has acted lawfully in the way it has handled the T-Level process.

“FAB is advancing several grounds of legal challenge to the approach being taken by the DfE (and IfA) to the “wave 1” T-level procurement process. The rationale for the timescales being pursued by the DfE (and IfA) does not add up. It is unclear whether these bodies even have the powers they need to act as they intend. Further, the ongoing uncertainty around numerous matters that are essential to bid preparation will make it impossible for some AOs to participate in the procurement process, will dissuade other AOs from participating, and will significantly disadvantage those AOs that do decide to participate. The single-provider model has, moreover, been adopted without proper stakeholder engagement, regardless of the duties owed by the DfE (and IfA), and irrespective of the serious implications for the sector.

“Other proposed aspects of the “wave 1” procurement process (including around co-branding and intellectual property rights) remain unresolved and may well give rise to further concerns. These are being kept under review.          

“We stand ready to engage in constructive talks with the government about ways it could improve its T-Level implementation plans. After all, we both want the same ends – a new technical education system that the country can be proud of.”

The new T-level qualifications first arose out of a recommendation made in the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, April 2016. The Independent Panel was chaired by David Sainsbury. The report recommended a new system of technical education to provide a high quality technical option alongside an academic option for students aged 16 to 19.

In July 2016, at the same time as it published the Report of the Independent Panel, the Department for Education (DfE) published the Post-16 Skills Plan which set out a suggested framework for the development of technical education in line with the findings of the Report of the Independent Panel.

In September 2018, DfE intends to launch the invitation to tender (ITT) for Awarding Organisations to bid for the exclusive licences for the Technical Qualifications in the first three T Level pathways (the first wave). The intention is that these three T levels will be available for teaching from September 2020.

T Levels will be technical study programmes that include a qualification and an industry placement. These are intended to give students the knowledge and practical skills needed to progress into skilled employment at level 3 and above, or higher levels of technical training.

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