Most initial T-level providers are still planning on the assumption that they will be delivering T levels from September of this year, despite dealing with upheaval due to coronavirus.
Three T levels were due to be taught from this September across 50 providers: construction, digital and education and health. The government has already spent £114 million in funding allocations to the first providers, and a further £38 million in capital funding. Some £95 million has been awarded to providers that are planning to deliver T levels in 2021.
However, Tes revealed earlier this week that the government was reviewing the delivery timeline in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to colleges closing and exams being cancelled.
In a Tes survey of the providers set to deliver the first round of the government's new technical qualifications from September, to which 28 responded, 18 said they were on track to roll out these courses this September.
However, seven providers said they could not comment, and a number raised concerns over access to businesses and delays due to the current closure of college campuses to most students as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Will coronavirus hit T levels?
One deputy principal, who wished to remain anonymous, told Tes that it was looking likely that his college would not offer the T levels as planned, due to concerns around being able to enrol a large enough number of students.
He said: “T levels are worth three A levels in time, which is roughly one whole member of staff. This is an expensive cost if student numbers are too small. In short, for now, I am unsure, but more likely no than yes.
“It’s unclear now as we can't recruit or confirm numbers of students now. In addition to this, we may lose a member of the ICT department and if this happens we will not be able to replace them by September.”
Tes also understands that colleges are worried about the industry placements aspect of the new courses, hailed as the new "gold standard" qualification. With many employers being badly hit by coronavirus, college staff were unsure if they would still be willing to accept T-level students on placements while rebuilding their businesses.
A Truro and Penwith College spokesperson said that there were great challenges in terms of access to employers and the joint planning work required between them and the college.
They said: "We keep this under constant review as a college. The uncertainty facing local businesses means structuring a timetable around a substantial placement is very problematic. Capital projects to support T levels are likely to be delayed now, also impacting on their introduction. Another factor is losing the opportunity to market T levels face to face with schools and have essential dialogue with prospective learners at open days and visits.
"The duration of present restrictions will be key and it could be that there emerges a national consensus around a delay for a year to ensure a buoyant recruitment and well-organised start for this major new provision. It remains a watching brief for us presently."
Mike Gaston, principal and chief executive of Havant and South Downs College, said that the coronavirus pandemic was “clearly a challenging context in which to launch a new type of qualification”.
He said: “The pandemic has undeniably caused uncertainty for many providers as regards the ability to deliver planned estates works, the capacity of employers to provide placements, and the disruption to planned student recruitment activities.
“Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the possibility that colleges are not able to reopen in time for the new academic year, we do believe that it is important that any new qualifications have a chance to bed in and be tested as soon as possible.”
T levels under review
In a written answer to shadow FE and HE minister Emma Hardy this month, FE and skills minister Gillian Keegan said that there were 1,500 and 2,000 places available for students to study T levels from September.
The Department of Education confirmed this week that the delivery of the new qualifications was under review.
In a statement, the DfE said: "We recognise the impact the Covid-19 outbreak will have on T-level providers. We are continuing to keep this under review, working closely with providers, as the situation develops, and we will provide an update as soon as we possibly can.”
Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said that discussions were ongoing with the Department of Education about the impact of coronavirus on T-level preparations.
She said: “The first wave of technical qualifications is almost ready for sharing with training providers, to support their preparations for teaching the first T levels. We appreciate that the fallout from Covid-19 virus handling will have a significant impact on preparations and are in discussions with the DfE over how that will be handled.
“Any decision on how timings with the launch of T levels could be affected will lie with the government.”
Ms Hardy, Labour’s shadow FE and HE minister, has expressed her concerns over the feasibility of delivering the first three T levels as planned.
She told Tes: "With everything that’s going on, the government can only suspend T levels for a year, surely, because we’re not going to have the capacity to introduce a new system."
Business as usual
However, principal and chief executive of Fareham College Andrew Kaye said that he was optimistic it will be business as usual in September and that the college will be delivering T levels as planned.
He said: “I remain optimistic that we will return to business as usual in September and T levels are an important part of our curriculum offer. In fact, I think they will become an even more important part of post-16 education as there will be much to do in reinstating the economy and getting young people back into work.”
La Retraite RC Girls' School, in south-west London, is also due to deliver the education and childcare and digital T levels in September.
Ruth Coyle, director of learning and sixth form, said that she had spoken to the college’s T-level DfE adviser this week, and that the college was ready to deliver the qualifications in September.
She said: “We are already offering the transition course Route2Three to a cohort of students. We have a cohort of over 20 for each pathway, who meet the entry requirements for digital and childcare and education.
“Our engagement with businesses is substantial; we have Amazon, Google, Comensura, ISG, Quantum Black, EDF and the BookMark charity supporting us. Good progress has been made by the staff on resources and schemes of work for the course and our T-level building is under construction. We are very excited for September 2020.”