The new technical qualification has worrying design flawsby David Laws / June 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
The recent “exchange of letters” between the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, and his top departmental civil servant, Jonathan Slater, over the roll-out of the new T-levels was courteous and diplomatic. However, the polite words cannot disguise the significant disagreement and huge risks to the development of the government’s new sixth form technical qualification.
It will be “very challenging” to ensure that T-levels are taught to a “consistently high standard,” wrote Slater.
It really is extraordinarily unusual for permanent secretaries (not least at the education department) to express their concerns about policy delivery in this way. Civil servants and ministers usually move heaven and earth to avoid public bust-ups, which can seriously undermine relations and cast doubt over the delivery of key policies. Slater must have had very serious concerns indeed to write this “accounting officer” letter. As interesting, Hinds has chosen to ignore the very clear advice.
Is this just a department for education spat, or does it matter? Potentially, it matters a lot. This new option for post-16 vocational study, soon to be rolled out for 25 courses,is looking problematic to say the least.
Governments have a poor record of introducing new “technical/vocational” qualifications (remember Diplomas?). If you are an employer being asked to provide T-Level work placements, is this spat more or less likely to make you want to engage? If you are a parent or a potential T-Level student, do you really want to risk being a “guinea pig” taking a new qualification in 2020 or 2021 when the top education civil servant has publicly stated his concern? Many more people will now be tempted to “wait and see,” particularly given that only 50 or so providers are so far lined up to offer the first three T-levels (in digital, childcare and education, and construction).
T-Levels will only be a success if they are seen as being a credible and high quality vocational route, likely to last and gain labour market value. It would be far better in my view for the government to take time to get this new qualification right than to rush the process of design, consultation and development.
But is this just a matter of how long the new qualifications are going to take to deliver, or are there issues of real substance involved?…