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'Who will run T levels? Meet the runners and riders'

As we wait to hear which awarding bodies won the first T-level contracts, FErret looks at where the smart money's going

AOs in the running for T levels for digital education childcare and construction

As we wait to hear which awarding bodies won the first T-level contracts, FErret looks at where the smart money's going

It’s a nerve-shredding few days for those in the awarding body sector. It’s the week, according to Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), where the exam boards that have won the contracts to deliver the first T levels are due to receive the happy news.

But while those lucky awarding organisations (AOs) which have snapped up the rights to design, implement and deliver the wave one subjects (education and childcare, digital and construction) – not to mention one of the contracts collectively worth a total of £17.5 million for doing so – were due to receive notification this week, an official ministerial announcement is not expected until next week, according to IfA chief executive Sir Gerry Berragan.

Feverish speculation

That’s not to say that there isn’t already feverish speculation in the industry. Rumours doing the rounds include one that awarding giant Pearson – the one with most to lose from any rationalisation of BTECs resulting from the review of level 3 qualifications – has been throwing the kitchen sink at winning at least one of the contracts. So much so that it has apparently sat out bidding to deliver new qualifications being developed in Wales in order to protect its core English market.

Given the high priority given to the roll-out of the flagship new qualifications – they’ve been granted 1A status at the Department for Education, which is as high as you can get – it would be understandable if the government opted for the biggest, tried-and-trusted providers to minimise the risk of anything going awry. On that basis, it would seem that Pearson, AQA, OCR and City & Guilds may have the strongest pull for ministers.

Big players or small specialists?

But given the 45-day industry placement element of the T levels, could there be a case for opting for one of the more specialist AOs with the closest industry links. BCS, understood to have submitted a bid, could have a persuasive argument for operating the digital route. Similarly, education and childcare specialists CACHE could surely make a case for that specialism.

The likes of NCFE and NOCN are also tried, tested and established AOs in the technical qualifications space. And FErret understands there may has also been strong interest from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Given that there is already concern among AOs about how the controversial single-awarding-body approach is being managed – hence the short-lived threat of legal action from the Federation of Awarding Bodies last year – guessing the outcome is a mug’s game. But one thing is for certain: in the (surely) unlikely scenario that SQA heads back north of the border with a multi-million-pound contract under its arm, English awarding bodies will be out for blood.

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