PM reiterates support for T-levels despite DfE perm sec’s delivery warning

Written by Richard Johnstone on 29 May 2018 in News

Theresa May says the introduction of new qualification is “the most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years” as first 52 providers are named

The government has insisted that the plan to revamp post-16 technical education is on track despite concerns from the Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater that implementing the changes by 2020 would be “very challenging”.

May and education secretary Damian Hinds named the first 52 colleges and post-16 providers to teach new T-levels on Sunday as part of what Hinds called a “vision for a world-class technical education system”.

The courses, which will be on a par with A-levels and will provide young people with a choice between technical and academic education after the age of 16, will provide a more classroom-based alterative to apprenticeships, with a three-month industrial placement.


Courses in construction, digital and education and childcare will be first taught from September 2020, according to the plan. A further 22 courses will be rolled out in stages from 2021, which will cover sectors such as finance and accounting, engineering and manufacturing, and creative and design.

May said that “everyone should be able to have access to an education that suits them, but we know that for those that don’t choose to go to university, the routes into further technical and vocational training can be hard to navigate”.

She added: “T-levels provide a high-quality, technical alternative to A levels ensuring thousands of people across the country have the skills we need to compete globally – a vital part of our modern industrial strategy.”

The announcement came just days after it was revealed that Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater has received a ministerial direction to press ahead with implementing reforms to technical education qualifications in England by 2020 after he warned Hinds the scheme may not be ready in time.

Slater said that the rollout by 2020 was “ambitious” and after regular reviews, he had concluded that “as things stand today, it will clearly be very challenging to ensure that the first three T-levels are ready to be taught from 2020 and beyond to a consistently high standard”.

As the department’s accounting officer, he was required to consider the 'regularity, propriety, value for money and feasibility' of public spending. Directions are most frequently used when departmental accounting officers, usually perm secs, think that to go ahead with a planned policy would be inappropriate or not value for money. The requests effectively force ministers to publicly defend their proposals and issue formal instructions to proceed.

“If these were the only considerations, you are aware that I would advise deferring the start date to 2021 in order to mitigate the feasibility and consequential value for money risks,” Slater said.

“But it is perfectly legitimate for you to bring other considerations to bear, namely the high priority that the government attaches to the programme in light of the urgency of the task of improving technical skills. And on this basis you can quite legitimately decide that we should stick to 2020.

“In this case, I need a formal written direction from you, which I will of course follow to the very best of my abilities, ensuring that the department continues to work strenuously under your leadership and with all involved to progress this key government priority with all due speed.”

In his response issuing the direction, Hinds insisted that the plan to launch the new qualification was a “measured implementation”, with the two-year courses meaning the first completions would be in summer 2022.

“I appreciate the advice I have received about the delivery timetable and have considered this in detail,” he said. “I recognise your reasons for requesting a ministerial direction and how they align with your responsibilities as the accounting officer for DfE.

“As you say I am able to draw on a wider range of considerations than the guidance to accounting officers, and I am convinced of the case to press ahead.”

In his response to the T-levels consultation, published on Sunday, Hinds said he was committed to working with businesses and learning from our international competitors to ensure these new qualifications lead “a generational shift in technical education”.

“For too long young people have not had a genuine choice about their future aged 16. Whilst A levels provide a world class academic qualification, many technical education courses are undervalued by employers and don’t always provide students with the skills they need to secure a good job – that has to change.”

A full list of the colleges that will provide T-Levels from 2020 is available here.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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