Exclusive: T-level contracts halved as fewer students predicted

Contracts to deliver the first T levels in 2020 were awarded last month – but the payments involved have been cut

Stephen Exley & George Ryan

The Department for Education has revised down the number of students expected to take the first T levels from 2020

The value of the first T-level contracts handed to awarding bodies was significantly below the figure initially advertised due to lower projected student numbers.

Tes understands that, while the collective value of the three contracts was initially advertised as being £17.5 million, the actual value of the contracts signed with Pearson – for two T levels pathways – and NCFE was revised down significantly, partly due to a significant drop in projected student numbers.

Excluding the development rebate element of the contracts, the total value at the end of year four of the programme of the three contracts is believed to be around £8.5 million – less than half of the original figure.

Read more: First awarding bodies for new T levels announced

More news: DfE seeks T level transition offer partner

Background: T levels: what we know so far

'More transparency needed'

The first of the new T-level subjects will be taught from 2020 and the first providers to offer these new routes were announced in September. Fewer than half of the 54 providers chosen are FE colleges, while 13 schools were picked. The first three T levels that will be delivered are education and childcare (Education and Childcare route); design, surveying and planning (Construction route); and Digital production, design & development (Digital route).

In the original invitation to tender issued in July, the number of students projected across all three pathways by the end of the fourth year of teaching was around 51,000. However, by the final tender document, this had been revised down to around 34,000, a third less than the original projection.

Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden said Labour had been warning the government that it needed to get a clear message out about T levels for teachers, learners and their parents.

“I think it is concerning for what is supposed to the government’s flagship policy in this area that the value of these contracts has been revised down significantly. It suggests the government expects student numbers to be more modest in the early years of T levels or it could be issues to do with costs or simply they want to take this rather more slowly. There needs to be a far greater degree of transparency about why this has happened.”

Mr Marsden asked whether the financial shortfall in the value of the contract will stay with the DfE or if it will return to the Treasury, adding: “It should be retained in the DfE for future use.”

T levels: 'Radical reform'

Senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges Catherine Sezen said: “The technical education reforms are vital to help our country become more self-sufficient in skills and to give more young people the transition into working lives that they deserve. It is crucial that the 2020 awarding organisations work closely with the 2020 providers to ensure we have specifications which are fit for purpose to meet student needs and business requirements.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The implementation of T levels is the most radical reform of post-16 education since the introduction of A levels. Therefore we have planned for a measured implementation period.

“The department has selected a relatively small number of high-performing providers for first delivery in September 2020 to ensure T levels are a high-quality study programme from the very start. Our revised estimates are informed by indicative student volumes from providers’ data.”

The DfE confirmed that estimates of potential volumes for each pathway are provided to potential bidders when those pathways are being procured, based on the information available at the relevant time.

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Stephen Exley & George Ryan

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