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Why is Gove's Defra working on T levels?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking into T-level industry placements in rural areas

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking into T-level industry placements in rural areas

Education secretary Damian Hinds has put all his eggs in the T-levels basket in his bid to transform post-16 technical education. Not even the concerns of the Department for Education’s most senior civil servant have led to any deviation from the plan to introduce the first qualifications in 2020.

Now it transpires that the DfE is seeking assistance from an unlikely source: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – led by none other than former education secretary Michael Gove.

While other arch-Brexiteers in the Cabinet have been dropping like flies this week, Gove has to date been showing uncharacteristic loyalty to prime minister Theresa May. And his department is having a hand in the planning for the introduction of T levels – specifically, the plans for 45-day work placements. Sorry, “industry placements”, as they have been rechristened.

T levels: rural challenges

This was brought up in a session on work experience at the Employment and Skills Convention yesterday, arranged by the Learning and Work Institute. A DfE official happened to mention that Defra had been asked to help resolve the issue of how to offer placements for students living in rural areas not blessed with a full range of industries. Say what now?

While a cursory glance at the Defra website reveals its exemplary pedigree in matters such as recycling plastics, fishing policy and meeting the needs of bees, what the hell does it know about introducing a new post-16 technical education qualification? Is Gove seeking to influence policy at his former department by stealth?

Apparently, though, it’s all legit. Indeed, the DfE’s response to the T level consultation, published in May, did mention that it was working with Defra to “understand how students in rural areas can access T level industry placements”.

Barriers and solutions

And FErret understands that Defra is actively involved in the cross-government working group set up to look at barriers and solutions to the delivery of industry placements. The DfE is now starting to work with Defra in deciding how it can ensure T-level students in rural areas have access to the placements, and what kind of tailored approaches could resolve this.

Smashing. But FErret can’t help but feel that bringing in the government department with “rural” in its title to address challenges for students in rural areas is a clunky way of tackling this. Colleges across England already have a fair amount of experience in coping with geographically diverse student bodies. They might well have a few ideas, too, you know…




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