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Legal challenge made by exam board over government’s flagship T-level

Legal action has been launched against the Department for Education by The Federation of Awarding Bodies over the introduction of the government’s flagship technical qualification (T-Level), by the body which represents exam boards.

Skills minister Anne Milton admitted that she would advise her own children to “leave it a year” before taking them – despite being in charge of the reforms.

Business Leaders have criticised the new the timetable which would see the T-levels being phased in from 2020 has faced criticism. They feel that they aren’t ready and have been rushed.

Plans to start the first qualifications in September 2020 are now in doubt after the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB)’s proposes to launch a judicial review to challenge the reforms.

The legal action centres on concerns over the timetable for the first wave of the procurement process and the decision to adopt a single awarding body for each qualification.

Paul Eeles, chair of FAB’s board, said: “It is highly regrettable that we feel the need to take these steps. It seems the government is simply not willing to listen to a chorus of concerns about its T-level implementation plans. Ultimately, our concerns come down to the future job prospects of the 30,000 learners that will be invited to enrol in the first wave of the T-Level programme.

“We can’t afford a rushed process that could result in a whole generation of people being let down in the same way that those who took 14-19 Diplomas were prior to 2010.”

Mr Eeles added: “Of course, we are four-square behind the government in wanting to introduce a genuinely world-class technical qualification. But the desire to meet a politically driven timescale of September 2020 should not come at the expense of the capacity of the education and awarding system to respond adequately.”

Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary has been asked by a Department for Education permanent secretary to delay the introduction of the T-Levels warning it would be a challenge to ensure the qualification is taught “to a consistently high standard” But Mr Hinks said he was “convinced of the case to press ahead” with the plans to start teaching the first T level subjects from September 2020.

And skills minister Anne Milton prompted criticism earlier this week after she told the education select committee that she would tell her children to “leave it a year” before embarking on T-levels.

Tom Bewick, chief executive of FAB, told The Independent: “I think it is widely thought in my profession that the minister committed a ‘Gerald Ratner’ moment. He famously said he wouldn’t buy his own jewellery because it was tat. It is absolutely vital that when government introduces these kinds of policies – and this messaging to parents that this is the new gold standard – that as a parent you are prepared to put your children through potentially the same qualification route.”

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s shadow minister for higher education, said: “It’s astounding that the minister doesn’t have confidence in her own government’s flagship education policy. It is not acceptable for there to be one rule for the government, and another for everyone else.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “With a rapidly changing world and a big productivity challenge, we have a pressing need to raise our game on technical education. This needs to be a shared endeavour across the world of education, government and business.

“I am deeply disappointed that this organisation is taking this action, which could ultimately disrupt this vital work.

He added: “The trade body involved does not like the idea of a single awarding body in each subject. But this arrangement was central to the Sainsbury plan that is the blueprint for our technical and vocational reforms and is key to upholding quality. We have been clear since 2016 that this would be the model and it is the right thing to do.

“We are pressing on with T Levels, because we owe it to young people in England to give them a technical education to rival that in Germany or Holland or Switzerland; and I urge the Federation of Awarding Bodies to pull back from this unnecessary action and instead focus their energies on making technical education better for the sake of the next generation.”

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