The level of funding for the introduction of T levels, and a challenging timescale for implementation, are major concerns for trade unions, MPs have been told.
The Commons Education Select Committee is holding an inquiry into the so-called fourth industrial revolution, looking at how the education system is placed to prepare for anticipated changes.
Responding to a question from committee chair Robert Halfon about whether the development of T levels was appropriately linked to changes in the labour market, Iain Murray, senior policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, raised concerns about funding levels.
Mr Murray said the UK was “in dire need” of a high-quality technical education system, but added that the current time frame for the introduction of the new technical qualifications – which are due to be taught in September 2020 – is “quite challenging”.
'Ambitious time frame'
In September, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that the £500 million extra annual funding promised by the government for T levels will be almost exactly offset by cuts to FE.
The additional cash to fund the introduction of T levels – 16-19 qualifications aligned with the 15 technical routes outlined in the Post-16 Skills Plan – will gradually rise from £60 million in 2018-19. It will not hit £500 million a year until the qualifications have been fully rolled out.
Concerns over the "ambitious" time frame for the introduction of T levels were also raised by the Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater in May. Mr Slater recommended a one-year delay in implementation, which was rejected by education secretary Damian Hinds. The department's top civil servant subsequently issued a ministerial direction to put his concerns on the record.
Mr Murray said: “Our concerns are around [whether] the FE system, especially the levels of funding in the FE system at the moment, [has] adequate funding to deal with the introduction of T levels, in particular, [its ability to] support for the workforce in the FE sector."
'Staff are not adequately remunerated'
The issue of pay and conditions for FE staff was also raised as a concern regarding the successful implementation of T levels. In July the government announced that school teachers will get a pay rise of between 1.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent, with the DfE funding a portion of that increase. However, the following month the government ruled out funding any form of pay rise for college staff, despite the pay gap between what teachers earn in colleges and schools being £7,000 a year.
Mr Murray said: “It is a sector where the teaching staff and support staff are not adequately remunerated and conditions are not great.
“Another challenge is around the work placement. I think this fairly lengthy placement is welcome, but it is important that all students get access to that.”
Matthew Fell, from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said it will be important to drive up employer awareness of T levels, adding: “Even more than that, an awareness of the industry placement.”
National Retraining Scheme
Murray @The_TUC says £100m allocated by chancellor in the budget for National Retraining Scheme is to set it up. It will "cost billions a year" once it is fully up and running - by the end of this Parliament #edselctte— Tes Further Ed (@tesfenews) January 8, 2019
At the Conservative Party conference in October, the chancellor Philip Hammond announced £100 million to help launch the government's flagship National Retraining Scheme. It aims to help adults access lifelong learning and obtain the skills they need for new careers as the labour market adapts to technological change and the rise of automation.
Asked about the total funding for the scheme, Mr Murray, from the TUC – which is helping to deliver the scheme alongside government and the CBI – said he was not sure of the exact figures, but imagined it would cost "billions a year" when it was fully up and running.
Mr Fell, from the CBI, said the government needed to get the scheme up and running as soon as possible because the changes in the world of work the scheme is supposed to prepare workers for are happening "right now".